MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark did not know exactly what to expect after last year’s cold free-agent market, but this offseason is turning out to be about the same when it comes to unsigned players.
“There was a lot of rationale as to why last year was the way it was,” Clark said last week. “But we find this year, year two, in a similar place.”
Clark did not provide numbers of unsigned players but said there were a number of free agents who have not received any offers at all. “What we are seeing is hurting the industry,” he said.
As of early last week, the two premier free agents, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, had not agreed to deals. There’s an expectation that once those two stars sign, others will follow.
Asked about Harper and Machado, Clark said the union did not keep tabs with agents on negotiations of individual players. Asked if once they did agree how many other signings might follow, Clark said, “Your question is a valid one.”
“Fans are interested, too,” he added. “What is happening is not beneficial for the industry where you have three-and-a-half months of — how did they put it the other day? — a ‘cold hot stove.’ It’s just not beneficial.”
Although Clark could not speak about specific players, he said he knows some players have not received any offers at all.
“That part is discouraging to say the least,” he said. “So it’s one thing if guys are trying to work through proposals that they have. … But when a guy’s phone hasn’t rung, that’s different. There’s not much to share other than, ‘We have nothing. Nobody’s calling. Nobody’s interested.’
“That’s much like what we saw last offseason as well.”
There were 130 unsigned free agents on the market at the end of January, according to The Athletic. The website also reported that MLBPA player representatives had taken the unusual step of voting to withhold all of the group licensing money normally distributed to players for a possible “strike fund,” instead of just a portion of that.
“The players decided at the end of November at our executive board meeting to begin withholding their group licensing checks,” Clark confirmed to SBJ.
The MLBPA historically has withheld an increasingly higher percentage of those dollars — which come from group licensing deals involving MLB players — as the union approaches collective bargaining. The MLB collective-bargaining agreement is currently — and has been in the past — five years in length and expires on Dec. 1, 2021.
Typically, Clark explained, the amount withheld has been 20 percent the first year, 40 percent the second year, 60 percent the third, 80 percent the fourth and 100 percent the last year. “In this instance, give or take three years away from the expiration of our agreement, players have decided to withhold all of our licensing dollars, effective immediately,” he said.
Clark did not reveal what that fund might be used for, but in addition to paying out-of-work union members, such funds generally have been used by unions for litigation and other labor dispute-related expenses.
■ EXCEL SIGNS NBA PLAYERS: Excel Sports Management has signed Atlanta Hawks power forward John Collins and New Orleans Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor.
Agents Sean Kennedy and Jeff Schwartz are representing Collins, who is scheduled to compete in the AT&T Slam Dunk contest as part of NBA All-Star Game festivities this week in Charlotte. Collins was formerly represented by CAA Sports.
Kennedy is representing Okafor. Okafor parted ways with BDA Sports last summer.