Yesterday, new Athletics 1B/OF Brandon Moss appeared on MLB Network Radio and had a few things to say about the collective bargaining agreement, which has influenced greatly how this offseason has played out. Many free agents, including many of the best players in baseball like J.D. Martinez, remain unsigned. The issue is complex, but part of the issue is that teams aren’t as willing to exceed the competitive balance tax threshold or relinquish draft picks.
Moss said that the players’ union has to take responsibility for the balance of power that has begun tilting greatly towards ownership. He said, “It’s our own doing. These past two collective bargaining agreements, any bargaining chip that we’ve had — we’ve incentivized teams to wait us out. We’ve incentivized teams to value draft picks over a known commodity in a Major League Baseball player.” He added, “It’s just one of those things where the players are going to have to get together and say, ‘Man, we’ve given some things away that we’ve got to find a way to get back.’”
Moss appeared on MLB Network’s Hot Stove on Wednesday and was asked by Ken Rosenthal to expound on the thoughts he shared yesterday. Here’s the video (skip to about 6:25) followed by a transcription:
I meant what I said. Everything that happens in the game of baseball as far as how things are done financially is bargained into a collective bargaining agreement. The way free agency runs, the way draft money is allotted, the way international signing bonus money is allotted, everything is bargained.
Obviously, this is my own opinion. I don’t want to sit here and pretend that I represent all the players. I don’t want to sit here and pretend that this may or may not be a popular opinion. This is just from my perspective as a guy that — my career is almost finished, so I don’t have to deal with this much longer. But the worry is there for me as far as a player now for the players in the future that enough attention is not being paid to the way we allow our system to be ran. I feel like we put more things that are of less value to the forefront. I just feel like we’re starting to have to walk a little bit of a tightrope that we’ve created for ourselves.
I think that we have given the owners and we have given the people who are very, very business savvy a very good opportunity to take advantage of a system that we have created for ourselves. I’m not sitting here saying that — we’re not better than anyone else. We’re not sitting here saying like, “Hey man I deserve $180 million. I deserve $200 million.” That’s not what we’re saying. What we’re saying is we have the right to bargain and set our price just like the owners have the right to meet that price. What we’ve done is we’ve incentivized owners and we’ve incentivized teams to say, “We don’t want to meet that price, it costs us too much to meet that price. It costs us draft picks. It costs us international signing money. It costs us all these different things. We’re going to have to pay a tax if we go over a certain threshold that we’ve set ourselves.” I just think that by doing all those things, what we have done is we’ve given the owners and teams and franchises an excuse to not pay top free agents. To have a reason to say, “No, we don’t want to go after these guys because this is why.”
The only reason those things are there is because we bargained them in. If I’m an owner, my goal is to have the bottom line be in black. To put a winner on the field and the bottom line to be in black. The more opportunity you give me to do those things, the better off I’m going to be. I just feel like, as players, we also have to watch out for our own interests. If you run too good of a deal out there in a bargaining agreement then of course the owners are going to jump on it. You have to be willing to dig your heels in a little bit, fight for the things that the guys in the past have fought for. I’m sure that those guys in the early ’90’s were not excited about going into spring training without a job, without having a salary, without being able to say, “This is what I’m making this year and this is when I’m going to have a job again.” But they did it, and players like me benefitted from it, and I just hate to see players like me taking advantage of a system that was set up for me by other players and not passing it along to the next generation of players.
Everybody wants to look up and scream, “collusion.” Everybody wants to look up and scream, “This isn’t fair.” But sooner or later, you have to take responsibility for a system you created for yourself. It’s our fault.
Once again, Moss is right on the money with his thoughts. Ownership and labor are always at odds. Ownership is always going to look out for its best interest, even at the expense of labor. So it’s up to laborers to look out for themselves — to be informed, to speak up and fight back.
I’ve cited this statistic, published by Nathaniel Grow at FanGraphs in 2015, ad nauseam here but it’s extremely relevant: In 2002, players took home 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, that figure was 38 percent. Over the course of a decade and a half, ownership took small victories in collective bargaining and turned it into a nearly 18 percent change in revenue shares. It was easy to miss because Major League Baseball was making billions of dollars and player contracts were still going up. So the union began to focus on other, littler things in negotiations, like off-days (which are still important). As Moss put it, “We put more things that are of less value to the forefront.”
Moss also said something which I hope other players — especially other veterans — take to heart and apply it not only to their current teammates, but to the players in the minor leagues. Moss said, “I just hate to see players like me taking advantage of a system that was set up for me by other players and not passing it along to the next generation of players.” By focusing on quality-of-life issues and deprioritizing issues that affect player salaries, current players have actually hurt their younger teammates and those in the minor leagues (who do not have union representation).
In the grand scheme of things, the players will be fine. Most of them will make millions of dollars as will many of the top minor leaguers, who received hefty signing bonuses and will likely earn more in the majors, even as their first six years in the league are subject to the whims of their teams. But this is a zero sum game and, in a lot of ways, baseball is a microcosm of our society at large. We have allowed the people that run things to take increasingly more ground. We have wealth inequality now at levels we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. By fighting and winning, the MLBPA — one of the few remaining unions with any real power — can show other unions how to fight back and show that the fight can be won. It shows the Average Joe laborer that fighting back is worth the effort. It is easy to dismiss the current issue between baseball players and ownership as greedy millionaires looking for more money, but it runs much deeper than that.