Why the union is not squawking about collusion

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As the offseason wears on and we pull to within just a couple of weeks of pitchers and catchers reporting, there are still over 130 free agents sitting out on the market. This obviously has them getting nervous and, in turn, has their agents getting nervous. Or frustrated. Or some combination of the two.

A good example of that frustration can be seen in Ken Rosenthal’s latest story in The Athletic, in which he speaks to Scott Boras about the ice cold free agent market. Boras works for five of the top free agents still out there in J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Jake Arrieta and Greg Holland. Given that they’re still looking for work, he’s not a happy man these days and, Boras’ self-interest and his usual overstating of things notwithstanding, makes some good points about how this tough market is not good for baseball and not good for baseball fans. It’s definitely worth your time to read it, assuming you have a subscription to The Athletic, which you should, because it’s a good publication.

In the article, Rosenthal notes correctly that, unless the MLBPA and its members can prove that the clubs are colluding against free agents, theres not much the players can do about it. He also mentions that the union has not yet made any public accusations of collusion. Which is also true.

I wanted to talk about that a minute, because many people have asked me if I think there has been collusion in this market and why the players and the union haven’t squawked about it yet.

The answer to the first question is “I don’t know.” It’s possible and plausible if, for no other reason, than collusion has been committed in the past. There’s this idea that such schemes are ancient history and were committed by dumb men with their heads in a different century, but (a) there are a lot more of the people who were involved in it back in the 1980s who are still knocking around the game than people will have you believe; and (b) the league and the union, quite quietly, settled more small scale collusion cases in relatively recent history. I do not have any evidence at my disposal that it has occurred this offseason and would not accuse front offices of it without any, but it has happened before and it could certainly happen again.

The second question is more interesting to me: why haven’t the players complained about it publicly? Will they? If so, when?

To answer this we must — my above comments notwithstanding — note that today’s owners and their front offices are much smarter than their predecessors. They still have incentives to collude and could still be doing it but, if so, they’re not likely to be as dumb about it. Back in the 1980s they literally sat in a room at an Arizona resort and talked openly about colluding. It was like that scene in “The Wire” when Shamrock was taking notes at the co-op meeting (NSFW language!) except there was no one as smart as Stringer Bell around to tell them that maybe they should not have done that. If there is collusion happening today, it’s not likely to be so crass or so obvious.

Which is not to say that, if there is collusion today, it can’t be uncovered by the union.

While there are unlikely to be any smoking guns or secretly-recorded conference room meetings in which a collusion plot is uncovered, one could make a pretty compelling collusion case forensic means, as it were. Specifically, the union can look at all of the offers made to players this offseason. If, when they do, they find that Player X magically got identical offers of $Y million dollars over Z years from four clubs, it’ll stick out. If other players can tell the same story, the case is stronger.

Obviously that would not be conclusive. As we’ve all been told, over and over again, a big problem with the market right now is there is groupthink among front offices. They’re all from the same schools, they all approach the game in the same way and in a lot of cases they use the same analytics and models to assess player value, making similar offers inevitable. I think there are limits to that defense, though, as all teams have their own proprietary analysis tools and there remain, contrary to what some analysts would have you think, a lot of intangible and situational measures of player value that could lead to differing offers. In the end, it’d be a fact dispute, and it’d all be a matter of convincing an arbitrator that the similarities in offers were intentional or coincidental, depending on which side is making the argument.

Which is to say that, setting aside the strength of a potential collusion case, it’s not likely that one could be formed, let alone lodged publicly, until after all of the dust has settled this offseason. Until all or at least most the free agents have found teams and the union and agents can compare notes on the offers that were made.

As I said before: there may or may not be collusion. The slow market may be a function of weak talent, shifting valuation models on the part of front offices, unreasonable demands by players, some other factor we’re not seeing or some combination of all of those things. If there is a collusion case to be made, however, I am not surprised we’re not hearing about it now. I’d be shocked, in fact, if we heard it before this spring or summer. The evidence simply isn’t in yet.

MLB free agent watch: Ohtani leads possible 2023-24 class

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CHICAGO – The number will follow Shohei Ohtani until it is over. No, not Ohtani’s home runs or strikeouts or any of his magnificent numbers from the field. Nothing like that.

It’s all about how much. As in how much will his next contract be worth.

Ohtani is among several players going into their final seasons before they are eligible for free agency. There is still time for signatures and press conferences before opening day, but history shows a new contract becomes less likely once the real games begin.

There is no real precedent for placing a value on Ohtani’s remarkable skills, especially after baseball’s epic offseason spending spree. And that doesn’t factor in the potential business opportunities that go along with the majors’ only truly global star.

Ohtani hit .273 with 34 homers and 95 RBIs last season in his fifth year with the Los Angeles Angels. The 2021 AL MVP also went 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA in 28 starts on the mound.

He prepared for this season by leading Japan to the World Baseball Classic championship, striking out fellow Angels star Mike Trout for the final out in a 3-2 victory over the United States in the final.

Ohtani, who turns 29 in July, could set multiple records with his next contract, likely in the neighborhood of a $45 million average annual value and quite possibly reaching $500 million in total.

If the Angels drop out of contention in the rough-and-tumble AL West, Ohtani likely becomes the top name on the trade market this summer. If the Angels are in the mix for the playoffs, the pressure builds on the team to get something done before possibly losing Ohtani in free agency for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick.

So yeah, definitely high stakes with Ohtani and the Angels.

Here is a closer look at five more players eligible for free agency after this season:


Nola, who turns 30 in June, went 11-13 with a 3.25 ERA in 32 starts for Philadelphia last year. He also had a career-best 235 strikeouts in 205 innings for the NL champions.

Nola was selected by the Phillies with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft. There were extension talks during spring training, but it didn’t work out.

“We are very open-minded to trying to sign him at the end of the season,” President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll remain a Phillie for a long time.”


Chapman hit 36 homers and drove in 91 runs for Oakland in 2019. He hasn’t been able to duplicate that production, but the three-time Gold Glover finished with 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 155 games last year in his first season with Toronto.

Chapman turns 30 on April 28. Long one of the game’s top fielding third basemen, he is represented by Scott Boras, who generally takes his clients to free agency.


Hernández was acquired in a November trade with Toronto. He hit .267 with 25 homers and 77 RBIs in his final year with the Blue Jays. He was terrific in 2021, batting .296 with 32 homers, 116 RBIs and a .870 OPS.

The change of scenery could help the 30-year-old Hernández set himself up for a big payday. He is a .357 hitter with three homers and seven RBIs in 16 games at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.


The switch-hitting Happ is coming off perhaps his best big league season, setting career highs with a .271 batting average, 72 RBIs and 42 doubles in 158 games. He also won his first Gold Glove and made the NL All-Star team for the first time.

Chicago had struggled to re-sign its own players in recent years, but it agreed to a $35 million, three-year contract with infielder Nico Hoerner on Monday. The 28-year-old Happ, a first-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, is on the executive subcommittee for the players’ union.


Urías, who turns 27 in August, likely will have plenty of suitors if he reaches free agency. He went 17-7 with an NL-low 2.16 ERA in 31 starts for the NL West champions in 2022, finishing third in NL Cy Young Award balloting. That’s after he went 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA in the previous season.

Urías also is a Boras client, but the Dodgers have one of the majors’ biggest payrolls. Los Angeles also could make a run at Ohtani, which could factor into its discussions with Urías’ camp.