With pitchers and catchers due to report to Spring Training in under two weeks, with the calendar flipping to February, and with teams loading up and sending their supplies out to Arizona and Florida, I suppose it makes sense that today would be something of a public reckoning for at least some parties in the MLB free agency stalemate. It turns out, it was the agents who spoke up.
First, it was Brodie Van Wagenen, one of the heads of CAA, firing off more than a warning shot at MLB owners, threatening a player boycott of Spring Training. Now, two more agents have spoken up, and they are only barely restraining themselves from flat out saying the owners are colluding.
Statement from player agent Seth Levinson on current labor situation: “There is a bond that exists between Clubs and…
Another agents take. pic.twitter.com/Xu1WPU5YCh
— Joshua Kusnick (@JoshuaKusnick) February 2, 2018
There are no surprising revelations in these statements, though I will say it is surprising that so much focus seems to be going to the allegedly coordinated behavior of the organizations. Time could absolutely prove me wrong, but I just don’t think the collusion angle is going to bear fruit for the players. I understand their options are limited given that they only just agreed to the latest CBA, and I understand that if they could prove (or credibly threaten proof of) collusion, it’s probably the quickest and cleanest path to what they perceive as fixes. But I just don’t think they’re going to find evidence when there are so many other plausible market reasons for why front offices are negotiating/holding back the way they are.
To me, the better path is a hearts and minds approach, highlighting that the lack of competitiveness (tanking) around the game is bad for the sport in general, and the uneven distribution of revenue is unfair for the players. Maybe the players could build a case that the current draft rules, compensation rules, luxury tax rules, and revenue-sharing rules are going to negatively impact league-wide revenues in the long run, and all sides would be better off opening the CBA back up sooner rather than later. Even if the owners are flatly unwilling to discuss these issues now, it could set you on a much better path to really make serious changes to the system during the next CBA negotiations because you’ll have had three years to build that case.
Rattling sabers right now risks fans falling off the wagon supporting players (I see it in my mentions and the comments regularly). And fans shouldn’t be asked to pick “sides” right now – they should be asked only to continue enjoying and supporting the game. The best way to for fans to do that is to see that owners are treating the players fairly, and the players are committed to making the sport as enjoyable as possible.
We do also have to keep in mind that, as more agents come out today, there’s another layer to this conversation: they not only want to do right by their clients, but they also want to keep those clients and market themselves to new ones. These kinds of public statements today (and in the near future) should always be measured against that backdrop – good, important points are being made on behalf of the players, but this is also some good old fashioned agency public relations work. (Also: kudos to Kusnik for mentioning guys who are simply trying to land minor league deals and keep the dream going.)
I expect we haven’t heard the last of this, and things could get even more tense as Spring Training reporting dates approach. We may see much less early reporting than we’re used to …
UPDATE: As I published, the MLB Players Association put out their own brief statement:
— #MLBPA (@MLB_PLAYERS) February 2, 2018
I *think* the implication here is that the union is saying they are on board with the various agent statements today. Whether that means the entire union is on board with carrying out – for example – a Spring Training boycott, I guess we’ll see soon enough.