Union head: Baseball’s integrity could be hurt by plethora of rebuilding teams
By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Players’ union head Tony Clark says the number of rebuilding teams and unsigned free agents in a historically slow market threatens the sport’s integrity, an assertion immediately rejected by Major League Baseball.
“A record number of talented free agents remain unemployed in an industry where revenues and franchise values are at record highs,” he said in a statement Tuesday, eight days before the first spring training workouts. “Spring training has always been associated with hope for a new season. This year a significant number of teams are engaged in a race to the bottom. This conduct is a fundamental breach of the trust between a team and its fans and threatens the very integrity of our game.”
Just 53 of 166 players who exercised their free agency rights last November had announced agreements entering Tuesday, down from 99 of 158 at a similar time last year. J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are among the players still looking for a place to play.
“The excitement around spring training and the hope that it brings, which has always been the case, seems to be clouded now with a question of what is happening and why,” Clark said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
MLB attributed the amount of unsigned players to a misreading of the marketplace.
“Our clubs are committed to putting a winning product on the field for their fans. Owners own teams for one reason: They want to win. In baseball, it has always been true that clubs go through cyclical, multiyear strategies directed at winning,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement.
“It is common at this point in the calendar to have large numbers of free agents unsigned,” MLB added. “What is uncommon is to have some of the best free agents sitting unsigned even though they have substantial offers, some in nine figures. It is the responsibility of player’s agents to value their clients in a constantly changing free-agent market based on factors such as positional demand, advanced analytics and the impact of the new Basic Agreement. To lay responsibility on the clubs for the failure of some agents to accurately assess the market is unfair, unwarranted, and inflammatory.”
Agent Scott Boras said the luxury tax has combined with restraints on signing bonuses for amateur draft picks to cause more teams to jettison veterans and rebuild in an attempt to form a young core that can compete in future years. Boras said the dynamic of the sport changed when the number of rebuilding teams increased this offseason.
“There is a number of teams, let’s call it 10 or 12 in baseball, that are tearing down and rebuilding,” Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto said during the Mariners’ pre-spring training media availability on Jan. 25. “You could argue that you’re going to compete with more clubs to try to get the first pick in the draft than you would to win the World Series.”