MLB Players Talk Spring Training Boycott
After teams refused to sign big free agent contracts, the players are looking at options to retaliate
The Super Bowl is over and pitchers and catchers are getting ready to report to Spring Training in the coming weeks, but not all players are happy as some are accusing owners of colluding in free agency this year. This frustration has even led to talks of a job action during Spring Training.
The problem arose from the slow-moving free agent market. Unlike in previous years, big name free agents are still not signed with teams. Free agency is when a player has the most flexibility to negotiate a big payday contract since they can play one team offer against the other. However, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was signed 14 months ago, incentivizes teams to keep their salaries under $100 Million. Once they go over that limit they are subjected to a luxury tax. While most years have a few big signings, this year only one player, Lorenzo Cain, has signed a contract longer than 3 years. His deal was for 5 years and $80 Million. The lack of a big signing and similar statements coming from a multitude of teams has led some players and agents to say that owners have colluded together to dampen down the market this year, stopping the trends of 9 figure contracts that have increased wages over the last few decades.
With the growing frustration, some players have begun talking about taking action. Last week, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen floated the idea of the players going on strike. “That’s the thing we might have to address, so we don’t have that many Marlins doing this. Maybe it’s an adjustment for us, as the players union. Maybe we have to go on strike, to be honest with you. That’s how I feel about it,” Jansen said. “Maybe we should go on strike to fix everything. Maybe not. I think we have to address that with the union. I’m not going to say that to you guys.”
The Marlins further saturated the market, when they held a fire sale of the best outfield in baseball.
Jansen isn’t the only one talking about a work stoppage. Agent Brodie Van Wagenen, who is the lead baseball agent for CAA, said in a statement tweeted out last week.
— Brodie Van Wagenen (@bvanwagenen) February 2, 2018
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo, players have a plan B. Instead of sitting out all of the spring training they may report on the last possible day, nearly a week after they would normally report. Usually, players begin showing up to Spring Training well before the mandatory date, with some even getting there weeks beforehand to work out with trainers. By showing up on the last possible day, players feel that they would be able to make a statement about the free agent market, without putting the union at risk for having called an illegal job action.
In response to talks of a job action, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) released two statements attempting to dampen down the threats. “Recent press reporters have erroneously suggested the Players Association has threatened a "boycott" of spring training. Those reports are false. No such threat has been made, nor has the union recommended such a course of action.” Since they are in the second year of the CBA, any job action could be deemed an illegal strike. MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark also said “For decades free agency has been the cornerstone of baseball's economic system and has benefited players and the game alike. Each time it has been attacked, players, their representatives and the association have united to defend it. That will never change."
With players united and owners colluding, MLB may be facing labor strife for the first time in two decades.