MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark chatted with the media today as part of this week’s All-Star festivities. The Twitter feeds of Alex Speier of the Boston Globe and Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Group feature many of the key comments. Those interested in reading more about the labor situation should also read this interesting look at the efforts of Clark and other union leaders from Tyler Kepner and James Wagner of the New York Times.
Clark emphasized just now notable it was that the union and league have launched negotiations now, well in advance of the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement. He didn’t shy away from a lofty goal, stating: “We are interested in restoring meaningful free agency.”
The MLBPA is chasing other goals as well, including putting a stop to service time manipulation, increasing the marketing of players, and boosting compensation for young players that haven’t yet reached arbitration eligibility. On that last score, Clark says that “a young player needs to be fairly compensated for what he’s doing.”
As ever, the question remains just what alternatives can be proposed to create the desired outcomes. In part, MLB teams’ collective shift away from free agent spending is a reflection of the volume of young talent now rising to the majors. That speaks in favor of boosting pre-arb spending, but the capital side of the equation surely won’t boost the compensation of such players unless there are corresponding savings elsewhere.
Clark notes that the $555K league minimum is only that. “You can pay players more,” he says. “Teams are choosing not to.” But it isn’t clear why organizations would come forward with across-the-board raises for young players when there’s nothing compelling it. And it’s also fair at least to note that some teams have gone well over the minimum, especially for star players. That they have done so on an essentially ad hoc basis reflects the simple fact that the current CBA does not require more.
It still isn’t clear just what universal approach the players would like to accomplish, not that they necessarily want to put forth a complete vision at this stage. That’ll ultimately be necessary if Clark and co. want younger players to grab a bigger slice of the pie — or, perhaps, get the piece of the action that the owners seem to have taken away from free agency (not that they’d see it that way). Perhaps there are ways to find some extra cash to bring to the players’ coffers; Clark did note the ongoing influx of gambling money (and potential problems along with it).
On some level, though, the discussion will have to involve moving resources from one class of player to another. It’s at least somewhat curious, then, that Clark also indicated it was “not yet” necessary for a radical overhaul of the general arbitration and free-agent systems of compensation — a system that he has said previously “doesn’t work” in its current form. He did say that he has broached the concept of ending the amateur draft, which would assuredly represent a dramatic change in approach (albeit one that seems quite unlikely to gain traction and that might result in undesirable side effects).
Clark also addressed the matter of the increasingly regular long balls finding their way out of the field of play. He declined to subscribe to any particular conspiracy theories, but did say that he has clearly noticed the jump: “I believe the ball suddenly changed, and I don’t know why.”
That matter is not directly related to the labor situation, but it has loads of potential to impact the transactional market and is certainly a subject in which the union will take great interest. Given the strange degree of intrigue surrounding the MLB ball in recent years, perhaps it’s also a subject that the union can utilize for a smidgen of public relations leverage. And the rise in dingers may actually create some opportunities to shake up the labor market. The arbitration system, for instance, will struggle to react. It’ll take some creativity and foresight to take advantage (and avoid disadvantage) on the union side from disruption of this sort.