2:05pm: The union has issued a statement regarding a potential spring boycott, saying (via Rosenthal): “Recent press reports have erroneously suggested that the Players Association has threatened a ‘boycott’ of spring training. Those reports are false. No such threat has been made, nor has the union recommended such a course of action.”
1:35pm: Backing up an earlier report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Buster Olney of ESPN tweets that, as a result of the lack of activity in free agency, players discussed boycotting spring training during a conference call last week. However, “it is not currently an option under any serious consideration,” he hears.
Olney delves further into the players’ growing dissatisfaction in a piece suggesting 12 questions they should ask their leader, Tony Clark. The MLBPA executive director and a few agents have voiced their displeasure with the slow offseason this week, but other representatives only saw those as empty threats.
“Short-sighted,” one agent told Olney. “Impetuous,” said another.
Olney goes on to express skepticism that MLB teams are colluding against free agents, pointing out that several relievers and Lorenzo Cain have done quite well on the market. He also notes that big offers are on the table for Eric Hosmer and Yu Darvish. The players seem to think something sinister is at play on the owners’ part, thus leading to the talk of a spring boycott, but Olney relays that there are differing opinions. In fact, there are some players and agents who think holding out from camp “would lead to another disaster,” he writes.
Commissioner Rob Manfred himself addressed this year’s inactive market earlier this week, saying (via Jerry Crasnick of ESPN): “Every [free-agent] market is different. There’s different players, different quality of players, different GMs, different decisions, a new basic agreement, different agents who had particular prominence in a particular market in terms of who they represent. Those factors, and probably others that I can’t tick off the top of my head, have combined to produce a particular market this year. Just like there’s been some markets where the lid got blown off in terms of player salary growth, occasionally you’re going to have some that are not quite as robust.”
There are indeed several potential factors at play; one, according to Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins (via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports), is that “teams are valuing players in a similar way.” Atkins added that “the aging curve has potentially been overcompensated in the past. That seems to be correcting a bit.”
Beyond that, Passan mentions that there are fewer teams than usual chasing free agents because as many as a dozen are either “tanking, not competing or crying poor.” The $197MM competitive balance tax threshold, which the union agreed to when it negotiated the current collective bargaining agreement a year ago, has also contributed to the players’ problems because it has helped prevent normally big-spending teams such as the Dodgers, Yankees and Giants from participating in free agency.
Still, top-tier free agents like Hosmer, Darvish and J.D. Martinez will eventually “get paid,” a league official told Passan. But that same official is unsure of the futures of mid- to lower-tier free agents, saying that “even if you took away the CBT changes, most of these guys wouldn’t have jobs,” in part because “there are a lot of smart GMs, and they aren’t gonna overpay guys.”
Unfortunately for the players, there’s concern that what’s happening this offseason may repeat itself on a bigger scale next year, when free agency could feature the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, among other household names. Overall, the 2018-19 class may be a bloated group of players if some of this winter’s stragglers are unable to find multiyear contracts, Passan observes. The premier players available should fare well, especially considering teams avoiding the CBT this year may not have the same motivation next winter, but “when 85 percent of the money goes to 15 percent of the players, 85 percent of the players are going to hear, ‘I don’t have the money,'” an agent told Passan.
Should what we’re seeing now emerge as a new trend for free agency, it could lead to an increase in team-friendly contract extensions for young players who are fearful of encountering low interest on the market, another agent suggested to Passan.
“That scares the [expletive] out of me,” the agent said. “One of my clients a few days ago said, ‘Why do I want to go to free agency if it’s going to be like this?’ We’re losing the messaging war.”
With the CBA set to run until December 2021, the present setup is in line to last for the next few years. That may be a bleak reality for the union, though there’s hope that the players will take this opportunity to band together on important issues and truly find out whether Clark is a capable leader.
A source on the players’ side declared to Passan that “the owners have to realize they’re about to jeopardize an unbelievably good thing. If they don’t recognize it, they don’t see where this is going. Everybody’s going to be in unison. And we’re all going to walk right off the cliff together.”
They won’t walk off a cliff to a spring boycott, however, as Passan tweets that an organized strike would lead to the league filing an injunction against them. The players would then have to return to work, and it’s also possible they’d have to pay damages. Union lawyers have warned them of those consequences, Passan adds.