Agent: MLB players ready to fight for change

Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

LOS ANGELES--One day after commissioner Rob Manfred shrugged off the sluggish free-agent market for Major League Baseball players this winter as a blip, and one week after Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen suggested players ought to consider whether to strike, one of baseball's most prominent agents issued a manifesto Friday that hinted players might not simply ride out the remaining four years of the current collective bargaining agreement.

"The players are upset," wrote Brodie Van Wagenen, co-head of CAA Baseball. "No, they are outraged. ... Their voices are getting louder and they are uniting in a way not seen since 1994."

That was the year of baseball's last player strike. The calendar has turned to February, and more than 100 players remain available in free agency, including such stars as Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez.

Van Wagenen raised the possibility of a boycott in spring training.

"There is a rising tide among players for radical change," he wrote. "A fight is brewing. And it may begin with one, maybe two, and perhaps 1,200 willing to follow."

Manfred, speaking Thursday at the owners' meetings in Beverly Hills, cited a variety of factors for the slow market: "different players, different quality of players, different GMs, different decisions, the new basic agreement, different agents who have particular prominence in a particular market in terms of who they represent, those factors and probably others I can't tick off the top of my head."

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Added Manfred: "Just like there have been some markets where the lid got blown off in terms of player salary growth, I think economics would suggest occasionally you're going to have some that are going to be a little different, not quite as robust."

The players are increasingly skeptical about financial restraint in a sport in which annual revenue has grown to $12 billion, in particular the notion that the rise of analytics has driven owners to limit their bids in free agency. Van Wagenen used the phrases "feels coordinated" and "suspicion of institutional influence" as code words for collusion, which Manfred has denied.

"Many club presidents and general managers with whom we negotiate are frustrated with the lack of funds available to sign the plethora of good players still available," Van Wagenen wrote. "Even the algorithms that have helped determine player salaries in recent years are suggesting dramatically higher values than owners appear willing to spend."

The immediate battle for the players might be internal. With the owners maximizing their incentives to reduce spending under the new collective bargaining agreement, the players might need to decide whether to join forces behind executive director Tony Clark or seek new leadership. Many agents objected to what they considered a lack of input when the union negotiated the agreement that now is squeezing their clients.


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