On February 14th almost all MLB pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training but the question is, how many of them will be there or how many will be sitting out. An MLB Agent by the name of Brodie Van Wagenen released a statement about the frustration of the players with the owners and general managers. The statement itself pertains mostly to the crippled relationship between players and owners this offseason and the possibility of a strike. He claims that there are either one of two things happening; owners are simply undervaluing them or that there is a lack of funds throughout the league due to the rising salaries which could eventually cause the players to go on a strike.
— Brodie Van Wagenen (@bvanwagenen) February 2, 2018
The unsettling part of Van Wagenen’s statement is found at the end when he voices the imminent threat of a strike. He indicates that a boycott of Spring Training could happen if things do not change.
One of the largest issues the players have is feeling undervalued by teams this offseason. For example, outfielder, J.D. Martinez, entered free agency this year asking for $210 million over seven years. But on January 17th, the Boston Red Sox offered Martinez a deal structured to be a five-year, $100 million dollar deal. This shows how the players feel they are undervalued, it would seem like the Red Sox undercut him by about $100 million.
Sticking with the Martinez example, the other side of the debate these low offers are because of a lack of funds. Simply, as previously stated, Martinez feels he is worth $200 million whereas his offer was only around $100 million because Boston feels his value is $100 million. The question is whether Boston feels his value is $100 million or is it that Boston can only afford to give Martinez $100 Million. This is what the league’s agents and players need to figure out before any further actions are taken.
Van Wagenen is not the only one who has hinted or indicated the idea of a player strike. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic professed the idea of possible claims of collusion against the owners. If the players can provide evidence to formulate an argument, they could very well hold a strike and end up taking the owners to court. The one thing that is holding the players back from a strike is simple, it violates the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the players union and the owners. According to Rosenthal, an organized action would be considered an unlawful strike because of the agreed terms of the CBA from last year.
In the same sense, as much as an organized strike is considered to be unlawful players may sit-out Spring Training independently to show the owners their true frustration. The players are trying to ensure owners are truly going to fix this ever crippling relationship between the players and the front offices.
Another Agent, Joshua Kusnick proceeds to say that this frozen market is causing issues as low as A-ball level. He also mentions how this rising tension is actually unifying the agents around the league which is something unheard of. These agents are standing unified against the owners being greedy and simply looking out to make the most for their respective paychecks.
Another agents take. pic.twitter.com/Xu1WPU5YCh
— Joshua Kusnick (@JoshuaKusnick) February 2, 2018
The MLBPA released its take on the matter yesterday in favor of supporting the players. Tony Clark, MLBPA Executive Director, spoke out stating how crucial free agency is to the game of baseball and that the players and the association are unified together. Clark also attested that the integrity of the league was slipping. The MLB released a statement in response to Tony Clark’s challenge of the integrity of the league saying Major League clubs are committed to competing and putting out winning clubs for their fans to enjoy. They further went on to comment on the free agents saying it is common to have many unsigned free agents still, but is uncommon for the better players to refuse offers to remain unsigned. Major League Baseball is blaming the players and the agents for this issue of integrity.
Major League Baseball issued the following statement today in response to the comments made by MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark: pic.twitter.com/JE2AFRpEDZ
— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) February 6, 2018
It is not just the agents who are voicing their frustration, Kenley Jansen was quoted as saying “Maybe we have to go on strike, to be honest with you,” at the Dodgers Fanfest. Jansen is not alone as some players have remained anonymous, yet they still claimed they were preparing to sit out spring training or even until midseason. Though a few players have signed so far, none of the big-name players like Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, or Martinez have signed. As of now, the highest ranked free agent to sign was Lorenzo Cain, who picked up a five-year, $80 million deal minutes after the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich. It appears the market is frozen, so Jansen could be onto something by saying maybe we are in need of a strike, maybe it will unfreeze the market.
Over the course of the next three weeks, the relationship between the players and owners will either take a complete turn for the better or for the worse. The best-case scenario is that players will begin to sign and hopefully start the flame of the hot stove and will improve player-front office relations. The worst-case scenario is that players, signed and unsigned will independently sit out Spring Training, maybe longer and wait for the owner’s reaction. This would cause a player strike and obvious court case.
As fans of the game, we can only hope the players and owners can get on the same page soon to avoid any player strike or players boycotting in support of their fellow players. The next three weeks will determine how this year will play out. We can only hope this will be handled in a professional manner where the relationship between players and front offices are fixed creating a positive environment for both players and owners alike.