SBD/Issue 98/Leagues & Governing Bodies

MLB Says Free Agent Talks With Clubs Are Within CBA Boundaries

Manfred Defends Fixing
The MLB Credit Line
MLB Exec VP/Labor Relations Rob Manfred acknowledged that there are "conversations between the commissioner's office and the 30 clubs about free agents but said they engage in no conversations or practices that" the CBA prohibits, according to Murray Chass of ON BASEBALL. Manfred: "We don’t cross-fertilize. If a team tells me we offered X, I don’t tell other teams. Ever since I’ve been here, whether the contract requires it or not, we have been very careful about swapping information from one club and giving it to another club. It can be a practical problem. If I disclose something a club has told me in confidence, I may get in trouble with the first club." Manfred also noted that the commissioner's office, when MLB's credit line was not renewed, "negotiated a new line of credit for $125[M], from which clubs can borrow." Manfred, "During this offseason, we undertook to inject liquidity into the market by redoing the industry loan agreements. Whenever you inject liquidity into the market it improves the free agent market so to suggest that we somehow have depressed the market artificially against this backdrop is ridiculous.” Manfred said that if MLB had not fixed the credit line, clubs "would have had to begin repaying almost immediately loans they had made on the industry line of credit." Chass wrote MLBPA has "not raised questions or suspicions about the clubs' free-agent activity," and agents "may have their suspicions, but for now they are keeping them to themselves." Wasserman Media Group Agent Arn Tellem: "Once we get finished and see how all this ends before the season starts there will be plenty of time, and I assume the union will assess what happened this winter, if it was the economy, which it could be, or if there were other forces beyond the uncertainty of the economic times." One agent said former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker's address to MLB owners last November about the poor state of the economy was a "pivotal moment." The agent said, "Volcker scared the hell out of the owners. Were owners acting on an individual basis after that meeting, or was that designed to implement something of a collective basis? That will be seen as a significant moment" (MURRAYCHASS.com, 2/8).

Fehr Says Too Soon To Draw Conclusions
About Marketplace And Economy
FAIR OR FOUL? One MLB agent predicted that the MLBPA "ultimately will file a grievance alleging that the owners colluded to keep salaries down." On Long Island, Ken Davidoff reported the union has "reached out to most agents to survey their observations about this offseason, and whether any of the goings-on smell fishy to them." Davidoff wrote many people might "take such a grievance personally, given what we're going through in our country" (NEWSDAY, 2/8). MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said that it is "premature to draw any conclusions about the marketplace and whether or not it can be directly correlated to the economy." Fehr: "We always monitor the free agent market, we have ever since the mid-'80s. When we have a significant number of players unsigned at this date, it heightens any concern that we have." Meanwhile, in Boston, Michael Silverman noted the union is "considering staging its own tryout camp for free agents, so they can stay sharp and presumably allow scouts to get another look at them" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/8). In Chicago, Greg Couch wrote, "How bad is the economy for baseball? Not long ago, we heard that sports were recession-proof." One has to wonder if it is "really as bad as the owners say or if they're just working together to keep salaries down" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/8). MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said of the economy, "There's no question; the clubs are affected like every other business. We don't live in a detached environment" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 2/8),

PASSED BALL: Free agent LF Manny Ramirez last week rejected a one-year, $25M offer from the Dodgers, and an AL exec said, "I'll be honest, I never thought Ramirez would walk away from a deal like that. ... Unless a team like the Yankees comes in at the last minute and gets it done, I just don't see where he's going to make more than $25[M]." In Boston, Nick Cafardo wrote the "reality of the market -- at least the way it's been presented -- is that as we get closer to the start of the season, there's less money available." Another MLB official said Ramirez' case is "strange because you understand why teams are not biting on his demands, yet you're surprised that teams aren't biting on his demands." Meanwhile, Cafardo reported commissions for MLB agents are "way down" this offseason (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/8).

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