Tensions rise between MLB, players amid 'two-year attack on free agency'

Ben Krimmel
February 18, 2019 - 7:13 pm
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA director Tony Clark in war of words.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports


Spring training is hardly a week old and tensions are on the rise across Major League Baseball.

Things are not going great for America's pastime: Numerous talented veterans remain without a contract for the 2019 season, including superstar 26-year-olds Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, a growing number of players are now crying foul over the growing number of teams tanking, and now the league and players' union are in a war of words.

In the face of a free agency slowdown, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred argued payroll is not a good indicator of ballclub's interest in competing during a press conference Sunday.

"I reject that payroll is a measure of how much teams are trying or how successful that team is going to be," Manfred said. "Baseball has always been a cyclical business. People have gone through a cycle of building their teams by going young, husbanding their resources and trying to get a group that comes together as a team in the quintessential team sport."

Manfred defended teams, who in the face of rising revenues have cut payroll, arguing money has nothing to do with trying to win. 

"I just don’t buy the idea that running around spending money is necessarily indicative of whether or not you’re going to be successful on the field. I mean, one of the teams that finished with the worst record in baseball last year—I think the worst record in baseball—was one of the biggest spenders in the free-agent market last year and nobody points that out," he said, referring to the Baltimore Orioles who finished 47-115 in 2018.

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The response came from Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark, who called Manfred's comments a distraction from the main issues facing baseball, "unconstructive and misleading at best."

"As Players report to spring training and see respected veterans and valued teammates on the sidelines, they are rightfully frustrated by a two-year attack on free agency," Clark said in a statement released Monday.

"Players commit to compete every pitch of every at-bat, and every inning of every game. Yet we're operating in an environment in which an increasing number of clubs appear to be making little effort to improve their rosters, compete for a championship or justify the price of a ticket," he said.

Manfred addressed Machado and Harper directly saying, "Everyone seems to approach (the issue) from the standpoint of, ‘Gee, why aren’t the clubs signing players?'"

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“I think there’s lots and lots of offers out there, and it’s a bilateral process. Players have not accepted those offers yet," he said. "Do I wish, if I had my way, that (Harper's agent) Scott Boras would find a way, or (Machado's agent) Dan Lozano — whoever, whatever agent — would find a way to make a deal with some club sooner rather than later? Yes, I do. But we negotiated a system that allows the market to operate."

However, reports indicate many concrete offers for Harper and Macho did not materialize until rather late in the offseason and many speculated teams are colluding. 

"We believe these substantive changes are imperative now — not in 2022 or 2025, but in 2019,” Clark said. 

The increased tension between the players and the owners has raised the possibility of a work stoppage, which would be the first for baseball since the 1994-95 players' strike which saw the cancellation of a World Series. And with each day an increasing number of ballplayers grow more frustrated and the prospect of another stoppage grows. 

America may have another summer without baseball, either when the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021 or sooner.

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