SBJ/20081117/This Week's News

Union requires pre-arbitration update

The MLB Players Association is now requiring agents to consult with the union before they negotiate contracts for arbitration-eligible players.

Agents are now also required to apprise the union of the personnel who will prepare and present an arbitration case for the player if it goes to a hearing, said Michael Weiner, general counsel for the MLBPA.

“If we think it is not satisfactory, we talk with them about it and make suggestions,” Weiner said. If the person designated by the agent is not satisfactory, “We have people we can suggest and recommend. There are a bunch of attorneys who do this kind of work,” he said.

The move comes as some veteran agents have complained privately that other agents have agreed to long-term, below-market deals in order to secure client fees for themselves.

Some top agents are worried about a trend of multiyear deals for arbitration-eligible and pre-arbitration players that take them through their arbitration years and, in some cases, through their first few years of free agency. Some of those deals have included multiple club options, in which the club, not the player, decides whether to extend the deal at a prearranged price.

MLB players become free agents after six years of major league service. They are eligible for arbitration in their third, fourth and fifth years.

MLB arbitration hearings
Period
Avg. yearly
hearings
% won by
players
1980-1992
21
45%
1993-2001
11
37%
2002-2008
6
31%
Source: SABR; MLB.com

The new policy “wasn’t spurred by any particular deal or set of deals from last year,” Weiner said.

“Over the years, I think there have been some deals that were less favorable to the players than they should have been because of lack of preparation on the agent’s side,” Weiner said, but he declined to be more specific.

“If we were pleased about the level of preparation, we would not have to do this.”

Agents negotiating multiyear deals that would cover clients’ arbitration-eligible years also must now consult with the union, Weiner said. Nearly 90 percent of arbitration-eligible cases are resolved before they reach arbitration hearings, statistics show.

Agents have been told of the new requirements and have already been meeting with the union about their players and the personnel on their arbitration team, Weiner said.

If the agent hires an outside attorney, the agent and player will decide which pays the cost of the attorney.

The MLPBA intends to ask the executive board of players who govern the union to incorporate the new requirements into the agent regulations in December, Weiner said.

Weiner noted that the MLB commissioner’s office has had a mandatory arbitration consultation program with clubs for about 10 years.

Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, said that he and former MLB labor attorney Frank Coonelly started the arbitration consultation program when they joined the league in 1998. (Coonelly has since become president of the Pittsburgh Pirates.)

“What I have been led to believe is they will engage in the same kind of activity that is similar to our salary arbitration support program,” Manfred said.

Weiner said MLBPA officials had for years encouraged agents to consult with the union about arbitration negotiations and their arbitration team. The new requirements are “making formal what we had done on an informal basis,” Weiner said.

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