The Major League Baseball Players Association has now expanded its grievance proceeding against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic reports (subscription link). The union is in both cases challenging the team’s use of revenue-sharing funds.
As the MLBPA looks for ways to spur teams to spend, it has targeted the ever-stingy Bucs. An initial grievance proceeding included the Pittsburgh organization as well as the A’s, Rays, and Marlins.
It seems the initial action covered spending over the 2017-18 offseason, with the new one relating to the winter of 2018-19. Biertempfel spoke with union chief Tony Clark, who didn’t weigh in on this particular matter but did state that his organization remains concerned with “revenue-sharing recipients who remain in that perpetual rebuilding mode.”
The Pirates, of course, claim not to be rebuilding. Newly hired GM Ben Cherington has spoken instead of a “build.” Parsing the terminology won’t change the substance. After a winter in which the team traded Starling Marte and didn’t add back much salary, the Bucs are presently slated to open the season with approximately $57MM in player salaries on their books. That marks the club’s lowest Opening Day payroll since 2011 and fourth-straight year-over-year decline.
This grievance is obviously only one part of a broader union strategy to push back against some broader trends, but ir remains unclear precisely what remedy the MLBPA can hope to achieve through this mechanism. A team is required to spend revenue-sharing funds “in an effort to improve its performance on the field,” though the collective bargaining agreement contemplates quite a few things beyond MLB salaries as fitting that definition. At the time the first grievance was filed, then-Pirates president Frank Coonelly called it “patently baseless.”
As Biertempfel notes, there’s some interesting potential interaction here between this story and the recent reports of extension possibilities for the Pirates organization. Investing in existing players wouldn’t change the immediate mix of talent, so perhaps it wouldn’t speak directly to the union’s position. But it would go some way towards quelling the understandable angst emanating from the ranks of Pirates fans over the organization’s spending.