MLB, MLBPA Facing Growing Labor Tension With CBA Talks Looming
The growing labor tensions between MLB and the MLBPA stepped up again yesterday as MLPBA Exec Dir Tony Clark said the players consider last winter's slower offseason free agent market a "direct attack" on their rights. Clark, in part referencing more than 100 unsigned free agents at the start of Spring Training in February and many others signed to shorter and smaller deals than expected, said, "What the players saw last offseason is that their free agency rights are under direct attack, and those rights have been a bedrock of our economic system. If that's the case, we're going to have difficult decisions to make." Clark, speaking before the Baseball Writers Association of America, went further to suggest that a work stoppage could occur when the current CBA ends after the '21 season, ending a quarter-century of labor peace. "To the extent there are challenges to those rights, historically I would suggest those have manifested themselves in a particular way," he said. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, meeting with the BBWAA directly after Clark, countered the free agent market was a reflection of club choices on the relative merits of the available players. "'Direct attack' connotes some sort of purposeful behavior," he said. "The only purposeful behavior that took place in the labor market last year was that our clubs carefully analyzed the available players and made individual decisions on what those players were worth. ... That's how markets operate" (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).
ANOTHER POINT OF CONTENTION: The MLBPA's revenue sharing grievance against the Rays, Marlins, A's and Pirates is still in process despite the A's fighting for a playoff spot and the Rays and Pirates hovering around .500. "The concerns are fundamental," Clark said. However, Manfred suggested the union inverted the usual grievance process for "publicity reasons" and filed the grievance prior to an investigation. "We are now going back and forth with the union in what I would call the investigatory phase that usually precedes a grievance," he said. "Literally, they want to sit down to talk with clubs about what decisions they made. I don’t know why you would file a grievance and say they made inappropriate decisions without first learning why they made those decisions" (Fisher).
GETTING READY FOR A FIGHT? USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale notes the time since the '94 strike has "brought record prosperity," but as the average salary has "remained flat, high-producing youngsters are paid the minimum and valued veterans are left without jobs, the players may be more inclined to steel themselves for a battle -- at whatever the cost." It will be a debate that will be "revisited in the winter, and perhaps for the next few years afterward." In the meantime, Manfred and Clark agree it is "essential they discuss the current state of the game, trying to make sure it's not irreparably damaged" before '21. Manfred: "We are paying attention to the organic changes that are going on in terms of the way the game is being played on the field. There is a growing consensus among ownership that we need to have a serious conversation about whether all of those organic changes are good for the game over the long haul. I think we are at a point of time where we need to begin to manage that change. Pace of play, we thought, was sort of the low-hanging fruit. Everybody should be in favor of moving it along. But I think there’s a broader conversation that has to be had about things like pace of play, defensive shifts, use of relief pitchers." Clark said of the players' concerns, "Over the last five years, we have seen more changes to the game than in the years prior. All of that is concerning to the guys, where they don't want to get to a place where the fans are no longer enjoying it, and not engaging the next generation of fans. That combo platter is very concerning to them" (USA TODAY, 7/18).
CALL TO ACTION: DKPITTSBURGHSPORTS.com's Lance Lysowski wrote while MLB's "broken economic system will be formally addressed when negotiations begin" for the next CBA, players are at the "mercy of owners who aren't prioritizing winning." Astros P Gerrit Cole, who served as the Pirates' player rep the last two seasons, said, "It's on the owners. It's on the other side. I think this rebuilding, this tanking, there's a lot of words being thrown out that mean a lot of things. What it boils down to is players want to win, players put winning first. I just think that needs to be the focus of the entire league. There needs to be a refresher course going forward that fans want to see winning, fans want to see a good product on the field all the time. They want to see their favorite players, and they want to see good, competitive baseball" (DKPITTSBURGHSPORTS.com, 7/17).
REASON FOR WORRY: THE ATHLETIC's Jayson Stark writes Manfred and Clark did a "fine job of avoiding ... popular phrases like 'strike,' 'lockout' and 'NLRB.'" Stark: "But if you spent a couple hours, as I did, listening to them talk about the state of the sport ... you'd be terrified right now." Terrified that things are "bad and getting worse." Traditionally, that "never ends well" in this sport (THEATHLETIC.com, 7/18). In N.Y., Ken Davidoff writes the current ownership-player dynamic carries a "dangerous tension that hasn't been witnessed in a generation." One that "threatens baseball's viability as it tries to push forward" (N.Y. POST, 7/18). In Cleveland, Paul Hoynes writes the "free-agent freezeout" of '17-18 is over, but the "scars remain" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 7/18). In Toronto, Richard Griffin writes there are "storm clouds forming on the labour horizon" and "battle lines are being drawn" (TORONTO STAR, 7/18).