SBD/Issue 96/Leagues & Governing Bodies

More Than 90 MLB Free Agents Unsigned As Spring Training Nears

Ramirez Among More Than 90 Free Agents
Still Available, As Some Wonder About Collusion
MLB Spring Training camps open in less than two weeks and the league's "talent marketplace is facing a staggering reality," as more than 90 free agents "remain unsigned, and many of them simply won't have jobs when pitchers and catchers report, if they find jobs at all," according to Dave Sheinin of the WASHINGTON POST. One reason for the dearth of free-agent deals is an "industry-wide trend, visible for several years, in which teams place higher value on younger, cheaper talent at the expense of older, pricier veterans." Nationals President Stan Kasten: "We all saw last year's Tampa team, and Colorado, Arizona and Cleveland the year before that, all built on that framework. And when you see something like that that works -- we all try to pull from the best sources and use the best practices." While some observers have wondered if MLB teams are colluding against free agents, Kasten said that collusion is "'about agreeing together to' depress salaries." Kasten: "But in baseball, everyone is allowed to examine their own conditions and determine their own marketplace. And right now, the marketplace is down." ESPN.com data indicates that the 30 MLB teams spent around $1.7B total on free agents in the '07 offseason, but only $1.1B for the '08 offseason, down 35.3%. The total for this offseason "once again is expected to be around" $1.1B (WASHINGTON POST, 2/5).

CURIOUS CASE: In L.A., Bill Shaikin reported the MLBPA "isn't sure how the economic slump can fully account for so many players out of work so close to spring training," and for now the union is "neither alleging collusion nor ruling it out." MLBPA General Counsel Michael Weiner: "We are concerned with the number of unsigned players. We have concerns about other aspects of how the market is operated." Former MLBer and agent Dave Stewart: "I would think that the teams are watching one another. I'm not saying collusion is going on. It's just difficult to understand. ... I don't see any reason why guys like [P] Ben Sheets and [2B] Orlando Hudson would still be out there. They're quality players" (L.A. TIMES, 2/4). However, ESPN.com's Rob Neyer wrote under the header, "Collusion? Don't Believe The Talk." Neyer cites a number of offseason transactions, including A.J. Burnett's five-year, $82.5M deal with the Yankees, as evidence against collusion (ESPN.com, 2/4).  

Wolff Says A's Ticket Sales
Are Down About 10% For '09 Season
TAKING A HIT: FOXSPORTS.com's Tracy Ringolsby reported only 12 MLB teams "expect to increase their payrolls in 2009, and nine of the 11 teams with the biggest payrolls in the game last season are among the teams projected to reduce payrolls." Of the top 11 payrolls during the '08 season, "only the Mets, who ranked second, and Cubs, who ranked eighth, project increases" this season. The teams that "figure to add payroll will do it in minimal increments, and include five of the seven lowest payrolls last year" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/4). BLOOMBERG NEWS' Danielle Sessa reported MLB clubs are "taking unprecedented measures to preserve revenue to combat an economy that has contracted the most" since '82. Teams are "cutting prices on tickets and concessions including beer and offering interest-free extended payment plans." A's Owner Lew Wolff said that the team's ticket sales are down about 10%, and that he is "considering 'recession promotions' such as trading a can of food that will be donated to a food bank for a hot dog." Other teams, including the Nationals, Indians and D'Backs, have begun "offering no-interest payment plans" for tickets to "keep from losing revenue." Fans can "pay for seats into June, whereas in previous years they had to be paid in full as early as December" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 2/4). FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal reported the recession "clearly is affecting the way" the Cardinals do business. Team officials are telling agents that they are "out of money, a stunning development considering that the team will host the All-Star Game this season" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/4).

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