On the player side, frustration continues to mount when it comes to the slow pace of the 2017-18 offseason. We're within days of pitchers' and catchers' reporting, and still a large swatch of premium free agents remain unsigned. MLB Players Association head Tony Clark is no doubt feeling the heat, especially not long after negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that looks thus far like another win for the owners. Moved by all of that, Clark released the following statement on Tuesday:
The statement reads:
"Pitchers and catchers will report to camps in Florida and Arizona next week. A record number of talented free agents remain unemployed in an industry where revenues and franchise values are at record highs.
Spring training has always been associated with hope for a new season. This year a significant number of teams are engaged in a race to the bottom. This conduct is a fundamental breach of the trust between a team and its fans and threatens the very integrity of our game."
"Our Clubs are committed to putting a winning product on the field for their fans. Owners own teams for one reason: they want to win. In Baseball, it has always been true that Clubs go through cyclical, multi-year strategies directed at winning.
"It is common at this point in the calendar to have large numbers of free agents unsigned. What is uncommon is to have some of the best free agents sitting unsigned even though they have substantial offers, some in nine figures. It is the responsibility of players' agents to value their clients in a constantly changing free agent market based on factors such as positional demand, advanced analytics, and the impact of the new Basic Agreement. To lay responsibility on the Clubs for the failure of some agents to accurately assess the market is unfair, unwarranted, and inflammatory."
The thrust of Clark's message seems to be that an inordinate number of teams are "tanking" and thus not investing to the end of a competitive roster. That, in turn, is depressing the market for free agents.suggests that at least 10 teams are not trying to win in 2018 (maybe 11 if you count the Rays, but who knows with them).
Clark's right that tanking is a problem, but there are likely other issues in play, as well. To wit ...
- Teams are prioritizing younger players these days, and free agents tend to be older;
- Front offices are fairly homogeneous right now in terms of how they value players;
- Thanks to local and national media contracts and the sale MLB streaming properties, teams don't need to sell tickets in order to make money;
- That new CBA provides stronger disincentives to have payrolls above the so-called luxury tax threshold.
- Collusive behavior among owners is within the range of possibilities.
Insofar as tanking is concerned, there just aren't many structural disincentives for it right now. As well, the last two World Series champions -- the Cubs and Astros -- both tanked in the run-up to their title runs, so that served to validate the practice. It's an unsavory way to go about things, but it's entirely rational.
Meantime, the sides sound more and more entrenched, and that raises the possibility that players and owners won't want to be perceived as "caving." Perhaps the freeze-out will continue, regardless of how many dueling statements are fired off.