Posted on February 2, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
A slow free agent marke this offseason has not sat well with MLB players, even the ones under contract. Prominent agent Brodie Van Wagenen spoke out on the issue Friday in an open letter he posted via Twitter. In the letter, Van Wagenen says that this year’s stagnant market “feels coordinated,” adding that a “fight is brewing” between players and owners. He even goes so far as to hint that the players could boycott spring training if nothing changes.
There’s no denying that this year’s free agent market has been historically slow. The MLB Players Association reports nearly 100 members remained unsigned. Included among them are some of the top free agents available, such as J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish, and Eric Hosmer. The top free agents are not receiving the kinds of offers free agents in past years have received, holding up the entire market. Both players and agents have have taken noticed and are not pleased by what is happening.
“The behavior of Owners in this year’s free agent market has changed dramatically,” writes Van Wagenen. “Many club Presidents and General Managers with whom we negotiate with are frustrated with the lack of funds to sign the plethora of good players still available, raising further suspicion of institutional influence over the spending.”
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When asked about the slow market thursday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred merel stated that each year the market develops differently. He failed to address the fact that this year’s market has been historically slow.
Van Wagenen suggests that players who are currently signed to long-term deals are just as concerned as the players still looking for a job. He adds that players are becoming more vocal and more united behind the issue. He even compared the unity of the players to the strike of 1994.
“I would suggest that testing the will of 1,200 alpha males at the pinnacle of their profession is not a good strategy for 30 men who are bound by a much smaller fraternity,” writes Van Wagenen. “There is a rising tide among players for radical change. A fight is brewing. And it may begin with one, maybe two, and perhaps 1,200 willing to follow. A boycott of Spring Training may be a starting point, if behavior doesn’t change.”
Without coming out and saying it, Van Wagenen strongly suggests that there could be collusion among the league’s 30 owners with regard to spending. If players believe that to be the case, it could definitely lead to a serious labor fight, including the possibility of a strike.
However, it’s also possible that teams are changing the way they value players. Owners may be starting to fear being handcuffed by massive, long-term contracts to older players who are no longer producing at a rate that’s consistent with their salary. If players and owners have stark differences regarding how much a certain player is worth on the open market, it could explain the slow market.
At a certain point, something will have to give. One would think that the free agents who remain unsigned will eventually have to take their best offer in order to begin the season. But Van Wagenen suggests that the players may not see that as their only option. The longer we wait for the top free agents to sign with teams, the more united the players will become, and the more realistic a boycott of spring training becomes.