Dexter Fowler: “[The Orioles] wanted me to pay them” for forfeited draft pick

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Last month’s Dexter Fowler saga was rather interesting. It was reported that he had agreed to a three-year deal worth “about $35 million”. The deal never came to fruition and Fowler instead surprised the baseball world by agreeing to a one-year, $13 million contract with the Cubs.

Fowler’s agent, Casey Close, issued a statement in which he was very critical of the baseball media and the Orioles’ front office. Fowler later criticized the qualifying offer system, which was partially why he remained unsigned into February. Then MLBPA executive director Tony Clark also expressed his displeasure with how the media handled the situation.

But wait, there’s more. Peter Gammons recently spoke to Fowler about how negotiations with the Orioles broke down.

“We never really were close,” says Fowler. “They wanted me to pay them what they said the draft choice I was costing them was valued at. They wanted me to pay them for the pick. So we said, OK, then give me an opt-out after one year, and they said that’s something they won’t do.”

That pretty much confirms the complaints made by critics of the qualifying offer system, which could be altered when the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated this coming winter.

For readers who aren’t familiar with how the system works, when a player is to hit free agency after a season, his team — assuming he has been with that team for the duration of the prior season — can make a qualifying offer, which is the average of the top 125 salaries. In the case of the 2016 qualifying offer, it was $15.8 million. The potential free agent player can accept that offer, in which case he re-ups with that team for one more year at $15.8 million. Or he can decline the offer to become a free agent with draft pick compensation attached. Teams that finish with one of the 10 worst records in baseball have protected first round picks, so they would give up their second-highest pick. The Orioles did not have a protected pick, so — for example — they gave up their 14th overall pick in the first round in order to sign pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo’s former team, the Rangers, does not get that pick; rather, they got the 30th overall pick. Essentially, the Orioles’ pick just vanished and everyone else moved up a spot.

Furthermore, that this is a negotiating tactic for teams against players illustrates just how poorly set up the system is against players. Players are often portrayed as greedy, but the Orioles were valued at $1 billion, according to Forbes last year. The 27th pick in the first round is worth around $8 million, per research done by Matthew Murphy at The Hardball Times back in 2014. It’s unknown how close that figure is to the Orioles’ internal calculations, but it’s a good reference point at the very least. The QO system essentially took $8 million out of Fowler’s pocket. More, really, if you subtract the $13 million from the Cubs from the supposed $35 million he had negotiated with the Orioles.

While team owners want to haggle over every penny paid to the players, the sport overall is much better off when the players are well paid and receiving a fair percentage of revenues. As Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs illustrated last year, the players have been receiving an ever-decreasing percentage of revenues. It stood at 56 percent in 2002, but fell to 38 percent last season.

The Fowler issue is simply a symptom of a much larger problem, one that will hopefully be addressed after the season.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
LG Patterson/MLB via Getty Images
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On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: