Ken Rosenthal writes at The Athletic about the growing player anger at the lack of movement on the free agent market. He notes that a large part of the lack of progress on the pace-of-play stuff we’ve been discussing is due just as much to their displeasure with the labor situation as it is due to their basic lack of a desire for the pitch clock. Rosenthal further notes that players have been asking union leadership about the feasibility of what could be considered a work slowdown or a wildcat strike or something:
Earlier this week, in conference calls that union officials held with player representatives, players asked about the viability of collectively refusing to show up at spring training until Feb. 24, the mandatory reporting date, according to sources. It was a significant step — signed players standing up for unsigned players — but the union informed the players that an organized action of that sort would constitute an unlawful strike in violation of the CBA, and the players dropped the idea, sources said.
While it would seem weird that reporting by a mandatory date — instead of reporting early — could be considered a violation of the CBA, Rosenthal clarified on Twitter that a union-sanctioned, organized agreement along those lines would constitute a violation, even if any one player, on his own, not reporting until the mandatory date would not be violative. That makes some sense. I guess we’ll see if any players, independently or “independently,” decide to wait until February 24.
As Rosenthal notes — and as we have talked about at length lately — this stuff is all reaction, not action. Action on baseball’s pocketbook issues can only effectively be taken in the context of CBA negotiations, which the union and the players have messed up royally over the past several rounds due to their shortsightedness. It was clear to most people at the time the last two CBAs were adopted that their provisions — particularly those related to free agent draft pick compensation and a luxury tax set at a far, far lower rate compared to league revenue than it ever has been, combined with the fact that owners are realizing a TON more revenue not connected to winning baseball than they ever have — would serve to suppress player salaries. Add in the caps the players willingly agreed to for draftees and international free agents and it was inevitable that owners would (a) focus their efforts on cheap younger players; (b) stay away from signing free agents and higher-paid veterans; and (c) be content to rebuild, tank or, perhaps, not even try to win without fear of overall revenue going down.
Which is not to say “tough crap, players.” If there is evidence of collusion or improper dealing on the part of the owners, for example, the union can and should pursue claims to that end. If the players are asked for their assent to any new rules changes or the like, they should use whatever power or leverage they have in the meantime to get whatever it is they can get in the deal, however limited. If the owners devise yet more new revenue sources, the players should be front-and-center in an attempt to claim a share of it. The CBA may only be negotiated every five years, but the give and take between labor and ownership is ongoing.
That said, the large structural issues in the game — team control of players, arbitration, free agency, the luxury tax, and everything that flows from it — are baked in for the foreseeable future. They are baked in because of the mistakes and miscalculations made by the players and their union. To change that structure, the players will have to stand in solidarity the next time the CBA is negotiated. To stand in solidarity, they have to be working now, among themselves, to educate and communicate and to change the membership’s collective vision from its recent shortsightedness to something more forward-looking. They have to be willing to stand together lest they all be hung out to dry financially, separately.
I’d be interested to know if union leadership is explaining that to the players. On the one hand, it’s the union’s job to do that, so one might assume that it is. On the other hand, it necessarily requires the union to explain how it messed up the past two rounds of CBA negotiations in order to make that case, so it may be understandable if they’re not as forthcoming about it all as they maybe should be.
Either way, the messed up labor market is not going to be fixed with a wildcat strike or anonymous grousing to the press. It’ll only be fixed by education, communication and organization. You know, the stuff the MLBPA used to be super good at.