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Francisco Liriano gets seven minor league contract offers on same day

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We have been loath to throw out the c-word — collusion — when discussing the current labor strife in Major League Baseball. It is a claim that’s very hard to prove, even though there are multiple examples of teams colluding against players throughout baseball history.

However, as players have spoken up about their experiences in the free agent market, several have made observations that seem more than coincidental. Earlier this month, Cubs reliever Brad Brach said, “We talked to certain teams and they told us that, ‘We have an algorithm and here’s where you fall.’ … It’s just kind of weird that all offers are the same, they come around the same time. Everybody tells you there’s an algorithm.” Brach ultimately inked a one-year, $4.35 million contract with the Cubs which includes a 2020 club option.

Two days later, Rockies infielder Mark Reynolds said he went without a contract offer for weeks. One day, while he was out playing golf, he got a call from his agent who said he had four teams offering minor league deals on the same day. Reynolds ended up picking the Rockies.

Add Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano as a data point. Via Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic, Liriano said about his contract offers, “They all came the same week, seven on them on the same day, and they were all were minor league deals, pretty much the same money.” He settled on a deal with the Pirates, which will pay him $1.8 million if he makes the major league roster.

The MLBPA filed three grievances against the owners between 1985-87. Similar to recent years, the free agent market stagnated in that three-year window. Free agents were, by and large, unable to find contracts with new teams. The owners also had an “information bank,” sharing information about their contract offers to players with each other. An arbitrator ruled in favor of the players on all three grievances. The owners ultimately had to pay $280 million in damages to the players. Marvin Miller, who was the executive director of the MLBPA, wrote that the owners’ behavior was “tantamount to fixing, not just games, but entire pennant races, including all postseason series.”

Since then, the MLBPA has alleged collusion — both unofficially and officially — on three other occasions. In 2006, the owners agreed to pay the players $12 million from the luxury tax revenue sharing funds after being accused of colluding in 2002-03. However, ownership made no admission of guilt. In 2007, the MLBPA suggested owners colluded by sharing information about free agents and conspired in order to keep free agent Alex Rodriguez’s contract down. In 2008, the MLBPA ultimately decided against filing a grievance against the owners for working with each other in order for Barry Bonds to remain unsigned. In 2007, his final season, Bonds hit .276/.480/.565 (1.045 OPS) with 28 home runs and 66 RBI in 477 plate appearances as a 42-year-old.

That multiple players this month alone have independently said their contract offers have come in bunches and all with similar figures suggests more than a mere coincidence. There is precedent for ownership to work together. Something is fishy.

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

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
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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: