Spring training, the stuff that baseball fans’ dreams are made of, starts next week, and there are still so many Major League Baseball free agents languishing without teams. Word that the Chicago Cubs had signed pitcher Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million dollar contract makes me wonder not only what took so long but how this signing will affect all the others still in limbo.
The answer may be a case of nefarious collusion – no, nothing to do with politics – by the MLB owners and its commissioner who could be pushing back at Scott Boras, whose clients include J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Greg Holland, and others who are some of the best of more than 25 free agents still waiting for a date for the prom.
Anyone who follows baseball knows Boras for what he does well – getting the absolutely best deal for his clients and standing firm until he gets that deal. That reputation has made ballplayers gravitate to him because he does produce results; however, the process is not always a smooth ride.
The MLB owners, some of whom may be content to let the free agent market stew and look to rebuild their teams, have no doubt had enough of Boras controlling the market like he had a monopoly. Others perhaps are hoping that anxious players looking to join a team will be willing to sign a contract that will be a bargain for them.
The problem is that players without a team have no place to go to work out and train – that is ostensibly the purpose of spring training. Of course, you are probably thinking that the players can find gyms and try to keep in shape, but that pales in comparison to joining players in a camp and being under the watchful eyes of coaches. It also prevents them from becoming part of their new team.
MLB Players Association chief Tony Clark announced that MLBPA will open a spring training camp for all the unsigned free agents – hey, there’s enough of them to start their own team – and Clark pointed a finger directly at MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (long considered to be in the owners’ corner) and accusing MLB for this excruciatingly long free agent market that Clark says “threatens the integrity of the game.”
This move does give the players a place to go, but they are all men without a country thrown into the same boat hoping to find a port. Perhaps they can bond over the circumstances and get into shape for what lies ahead, but what if the phone never rings and they have no team on Opening Day?
Is it collusion? Well, could it be that MLB and the owners got together to decide to slow the market to a veritable crawl in order to not only give Boras the middle finger but also to pave the way for almost desperate players to make concessions and sign smaller contracts? Tony Clark may be on to something here.
Maybe collusion is too harsh of a word, but what else could it be when so many free agents are still men without a team? Boras stands on one side of the battlefield with his many conditions and demands for each of his clients, and the MLB owners are on the other side refusing to open their wallets. We have to wonder – who is going to blink first?
I have trouble with both sides for different reasons. The owners have plenty of money and, if they are indeed conspiring to avoid signing these players, they are setting up a season where numerous teams will not be good as they could and should be. Quality players are being left out in the cold, so Clark is correct about the game’s integrity and then some. If the owners want fans to continue to pay high ticket prices, they need to field teams that are worth seeing.
As for the players, I admire that they are union members, but some of them are very wealthy in their own right. Hitching their carts to Battling Boras is something they do of their own volition, so if they continue on without a deal maybe they can look into the mirror to see someone to blame.
I am usually extremely excited when spring training starts – and as a Mets fan I feel my team has already made the right moves this year – but it is disappointing to see so many players still unsigned and, if this is stalemate is extended into the season, their absence will compromise the quality of the game. That will be sad for them, their fellow players, and the fans who may think twice about going to games.
The owners, Boras, and the players need to figure out what kind of season they want 2018 to be. If this drags on, maybe half empty ballparks will send a clear message to everyone involved in this debacle, but by then it may be too late to save the season or perhaps even the game itself.