MLB Players Association president Tony Clark and the league traded barbs Tuesday over the continued stagnation of the free agent market.
Clark issued a statement accusing teams of engaging in “a race to the bottom” and the league responded later with a statement essentially accusing players and their agents of being greedy.
“Pitchers and catchers will report to camps in Florida and Arizona in one week,” Clark said. “A record number of talented free agents remain unemployed in an industry where revenues and franchise values are at record highs.
“Spring training has always been associated with hope for a new season. This year a significant number of teams are engaged in a race to the bottom. This conduct is a fundamental breach of the trust between a team and its fans and threatens the very integrity of our game.”
MLB’s response argued that teams have always gone “through cyclical, multi-year strategies directed at winning.”
“It is common at this point in the calendar to have large numbers of free agents unsigned,” the league’s statement continued. “What is uncommon is to have some of the best free agents sitting unsigned even though they have substantial offers, some in nine figures. It is the responsibility of players’ agents to value their clients in a constantly changing free agent market based on factors such as positional demand, advanced analytics, and the impact of the new Basic Agreement. To lay the responsibility on the clubs for the failure of some agents to accurately assess the market is unfair, unwarranted, and inflammatory.”
A handful of veteran players also weighed in on the issue.
With spring training just around the corner, nearly all of the top free agents on the market don’t have jobs. That includes Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and many others. Todd Frazier, one of the top infield bats available this winter, settled for a deeply discounted two-year, $17 million deal from the Mets on Monday.
MLB free agency has long been a way to compensate players for earning less than market value early in their careers. (Arrieta, for example, earned $3.6 million in his Cy Young season.) That has meant paying players higher salaries in the twilight of their careers when they may be less valuable on the field. Front offices appear to have realized how inefficient that is but players still want to be reimbursed.
One prominent agent said last week that the lower values of contracts being handed out this winter “feels coordinated” and that general managers are frustrated their owner are not allowing them to spend more money. He warned that a bigger labor battle could be on the horizon.