Prominent player agent Brodie Van Wagenen, whose clients include Yoenis Cespedes and Jacob deGrom, suggested in a letter on Friday that players could boycott Spring Training due to the stagnant free agent market.
Player agent Seth Levinson also released a strongly-worded statement about the state of the market, hinting at collusion. In addition, Tony Clark -- the head of the MLBPA -- released a statement saying that free agency is being "attacked" and that the MLBPA being "united to defend it" will "never change."
Roughly 125 free agents remain unsigned with just over a week to go until Spring Training begins, including many of the top free agents, such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Yu Darvish, and Jake Arrieta.
After noting that the "players were content with a status quo Collective Bargaining Agreement" in 2017, after they had had enjoyed a 23 percent increase in pay between 2012 and 2017, Van Wagenen said "the behavior of the Owner's in this year's free agent market has changed dramatically."
"It feels coordinated, rightly or wrongly," Van Wagenen asserts. "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."
Adding that the players are "outraged," Van Wagenen warns the Owner's, saying 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."
"There is a rising tide among players for radical change," Van Wagenen adds. "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."
Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Van Wagenen's frustration is understandable, but it's also misguided. He's doing his job -- standing up for players who he asserts are not being treated fairly -- but ignoring the bigger picture.
And part of the bigger picture is that with the larger influence analytics is having on determing player valuation, the vast majority of teams are placing similar value -- in terms of both dollars and years -- on each player. That may vary a bit due to a host of factors, as MetsBlog's Matthew Cerrone explained earlier this offseason, but the player valuation is typically falling in the same range regarding each player for each team.
Moreover, in a market where an ordinary player like Eric Hosmer is reportedly demading an eight-year deal, it's fair to also call the players' requests into question.
"There's a reason that the market has been stagnant, and it's not just because clubs aren't spending money," Mets GM Sandy Alderson said on Thursday at Citi Field. "It's because players aren't prepared to sign contracts currently given where the marketplace is. So I'm sure that will change at some point, one way or the other. Things will loosen up on one side or both. But right now, it isn't just clubs that are not signing players, it's players not signing contracts. They're as cautious as some teams have been."
There's also other factors at play, such as this year's free agent market not being particularly strong, many of the higher-tier and second-tier free agents being on the wrong side of 30, teams trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold, and the fact that many of the $100 million-plus contracts Van Wagenen cites have not worked out -- leading teams to be more conservative in terms of years offered in deals.
David Price, Shin-Soo Choo, Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, Chris Davis, Troy Tulowitzki, Jason Heyward, Joe Mauer, and Prince Fielder are among the players who have signed $100 million-plus contracts over the last five or so years. Those kind of deals can work out (see Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Verlander as examples), but the bust-potential is high -- especially when paying players into their mid and late-30s.