Prominent baseball agent suggests spring training boycott
NEW YORK (AP) — A prominent baseball agent says players are angered over the slow free-agent market and suggests they consider boycotting spring training.
Brodie Van Wagenen, co-head of CAA Baseball, floated the idea in a statement released Friday, less than two weeks before spring training workouts are to start in Florida and Arizona.
"The players are upset. No, they are outraged. Players in the midst of long-term contracts are as frustrated as those still seeking employment," he said. "I would suggest that testing the will of 1,200 alpha males at the pinnacle of their profession is not a good strategy for 30 men who are bound by a much smaller fraternity."
J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Greg Holland and Lance Lynn remain among the dozens of unsigned free agents.
"There is a rising tide among players for radical change. A fight is brewing," he said. "A boycott of spring training may be a starting point, if behavior doesn't change. Players don't receive their paychecks until the second week of April. Fine them? OK, for how much? Sue them? OK, they'll see you in court two years from now."
CAA represents more than 150 baseball players, including Robinson Cano, Yoenis Cespedes, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Jones, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Van Wagenen's free agents this offseason include Todd Frazier.
Spring training workouts begin Feb. 14, but participation is voluntary until the mandatory reporting date on Feb. 24 — the day after major league spring training games are to start.
Large-market teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, are cutting payrolls to get under the $197 million threshold for luxury tax payrolls.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said free-agent markets change based on available players, involved agents and general managers, and alterations in the collective bargaining agreement.
"Occasionally you're going to have some that are a little different, not quite as robust," he said Thursday after an owners meeting in Los Angeles.
He said following the labor contract agreed to in November 2016 "our payrolls are more compressed" from top-to-bottom-spending teams, according to 2018 projections. He said the teams feel that "is important in terms of preserving the competitive balance in the game."
New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, speaking to fans at Citi Field on Thursday, said analytics contributed to the slow pace of negotiations.
"Big data is the reason we've seen so little movement in the free-agent market, because as data becomes more pervasive in the game, as it has, it tends to narrow the range of different evaluations," he said. "The evaluations become much uniform."
The average salary, according to the players' association, rose 3.3 percent last year to nearly $4.1 million following an increase of just 0.35 percent in 2016, the lowest rise since 2004. The new collective bargaining agreement, the first since Tony Clark succeeded Michael Weiner as union head, added luxury tax surtaxes and additional penalties for high payrolls, including the loss of amateur draft picks.
Baseball has enjoyed labor peace since a 7½-month strike in 1994-95 led to the first cancellation if the World Series in 90 years, and the labor contract runs through the 2021 season.
The players' association won three collusion grievances against the clubs for behavior toward free agents following the 1985-87 seasons, cases management settled for $280 million. Van Wagenen, a former Stanford baseball player, says current behavior by teams "feels coordinated, rightly or wrongly."
"Many club presidents and general managers with whom we negotiate with are frustrated with the lack of funds to sign the plethora of good players still available, raising further suspicion of institutional influence over the spending," he said. "Even the algorithms that have helped determine player salaries in recent years are suggesting dramatically higher values than owners appear willing to spend."