With pitchers and catchers due to report in less than two weeks, it is clear the MLB Players Association has a crisis on its hands. Over 100 free agents remain unsigned, including many of the best players in baseball. On Thursday, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins stated the obvious, that teams are steering clear of veteran free agents.
#BlueJays GM Ross Atkins "when you're talking about free agency you're talking about aging players and the trend of overpaying a player's aging curves has come to an end across baseball"— Pitch Talks (@PitchTalks) February 2, 2018
Baseball's salary scale is broken. Players are paid less during the first six years of their careers, which are often their most productive years, before being paid well as free agents during their decline years. At least that's how it used to be. Now teams are flat out refusing to pay big for free agents. This offseason has made that crystal clear.
There is, understandably, growing tension between the MLBPA and ownership, as evidenced by the union's steadfast refusal to go along with MLB's various pace-of-play measures. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, players recently discussed the possibility of refusing to report to spring training until the last possible day as a show of unity with free agents. From Rosenthal:
Earlier this week, in conference calls that union officials held with player representatives, players asked about the viability of collectively refusing to show up at spring training until Feb. 24, the mandatory reporting date, according to sources. It was a significant step — signed players standing up for unsigned players — but the union informed the players that an organized action of that sort would constitute an unlawful strike in violation of the CBA, and the players dropped the idea, sources said.
Every team sets their own spring training reporting dates, though technically those are voluntary. Feb. 24 is the mandatory reporting date as per the collective bargaining agreement. All players refusing to report until that date would quality as an organized holdout and thus be in violation of the collective bargaining agreement, so the idea was tabled.
Point is, all of this is bad news for baseball. It's bad for MLB, the MLBPA, fans, everyone. Everyone wants labor peace and to keep the league moving harmoniously. Right now though, the cards are stacked against the players because they gave the owners such a great deal in the CBA. As Brandon Moss recently said, the players only have themselves to blame.
Getting a more favorable deal for their players will not be easy for the MLBPA -- ideally players would be paid more early in their careers -- and the fact they are already considering organizing spring holdouts is a troubling sign. Rumblings of a potential strike will only grow louder.