TAMPA — The players are gearing up for a fight.
After two straight winters of the free agent market squeezing out veteran and mid-level players, many are getting more involved with the union in preparations of negotiations with the league beginning this season.
“They guys are asking questions, yes, but also talking to one another like we have not seen in some time,” MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark said Saturday. “As a result of that unity among the group, whether it be this team or the connectivity to the other 29 teams, we are in a different place than we have been.”
Clark held the annual MLBPA meeting with the Yankees players Saturday morning. It lasted two hours and was described by one player as very “active.”
That is what the players need as the union and league agreed to start conversations about a collective bargaining agreement as soon as this season, an unprecedented revelation before the 2021 expiration of the current work agreement. It suggests MLB might be open to tearing up the current CBA, which the players hate, and putting a new one in place with an extension.
That could quiet the rumblings about a work stoppage for now.
“Their level of concern is why we are hearing some of the things you are hearing. We have time before 2021,” Clark said. “We have an opportunity to have a conversation before the end of the agreement with an eye on moving things forward that we believe is in everyone’s best interest.”
That begins with addressing the current state of the free agent market. Clark does not agree that the record-breaking contracts for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper prove that free agency is healthy.
“We are glad they found homes, we’re glad that other guys have been able to find some homes, but the truth is that there are guys who could help teams win, who do not have an opportunity, who do not have a job,” Clark said. “We remain hopeful, but it continues to highlight the concerns we have with the industry in general.”
The priorities on table will obviously be focused on the economics of the game, but there are other concerns to address. Clark has made his constituents’ opposition to proposed rule changes known.
“Changing the way the game is played is always a very delicate proposition,” Clark said, “which is why we don’t think the conversation should be focused on changing the game on the field as much as it the things off the field that are affecting what we see on the field.”
While MLB has the right to implement the three-batter minimum for pitchers unilaterally without union approval next season as planned, Clark implied that could be up for discussion when asked if the rule would be implemented..
“I think there’s a lot of time between now and next year,” Clark said with a smile.