After two consecutive winters in which free agency has moved at a glacial pace, labor strife between Major League Baseball and the players association is at an all-time high.
Players have verbalized their complaints more than ever. Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, Houston Astros starter Collin McHugh and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey are among some of the most prominent players trying to make sure their voices are heard.
After Friday, those voices are about to get louder. According to a report from Marc Carig of The Athletic, the league hands out a championship belt to the team that does the best in the arbitration process every year.
The belt ceremony takes place during a league meeting on arbitration at the end of each season. MLB acknowledged the belt exists, telling Carig it’s “an informal recognition of those club’s salary arbitration departments that did the best.”
In this instance, being the “best” means being the team that paid its players the least through the arbitration process.
Given the contentious climate between both the players and the league, this is a bombshell of a revelation. It’s not a shock MLB teams would want to keep salaries down as much as possible, but the fact that teams are celebrating and handing out awards for doing so is an awful look.
In a statement, Tony Clark, executive director of the Players Association, said the championship belt award shows a “blatant lack of respect for our Players.”
Executive Director Tony Clark issued the following statement in response to the revelation in The Athletic’s story today that MLB awards a “championship belt” to the club that does the “best job” in arbitration: pic.twitter.com/4x8OezF3PF
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) March 29, 2019
More players have gone through the arbitration process in recent years, viewing it as the best opportunity to receive significant salary raises. During that time, teams have been encouraged to go to trial with those players by the league’s labor relations department, according to Carig.
Those versed in arbitration describe efforts that encourage teams to hold the line in negotiations, even when differences are relatively small, because the results will eventually have a larger impact in setting future comparables. In essence, it is worth fighting for pennies, because even pennies pile up over time. The labor relations department positioned itself as a central resource. It made data available for teams to more easily find comps to be used in negotiations. It staged mock arbitration sessions. It encouraged frequent discussion about the process. As a result, teams as a group have improved their approach to arbitration.
That discovery highlights the difficulty the players association faces in future labor negotiations. The league — and its 30 teams — is united in its pursuits. It’s far easier for representatives from 30 teams to get together and agree on labor issues.
It’s much more difficult to organize hundreds of players and convince them to unite behind specific issues. That’s especially true considering players come from different backgrounds, have different motivations based on where they are in their careers and play for 30 separate clubs. Each player is going to have unique desires based on those factors.
We’ve started to hear some players weigh in on the matter as well.
Wage supression is a very real problem for the American labor force. Workers across all industries are being systematically underpaid and undervalued. It’s just disgusting to see it being rewarded and celebrated the way it’s described in this report. pic.twitter.com/pNl2S9IfjM
— Sean Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) March 30, 2019
All of this is made more ridiculous by the fact that baseball is a billion-dollar industry. There’s more than enough money to go around for both the owners and the players.
While elite players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Mike Trout continue to get paid. Many others are being pushed out. All-Stars like Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel remain unsigned. Veterans like Adam Jones and Carlos Gonzalez struggled to find work. Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas settled for one-year deals.
As this is happening, teams are putting out the message that they’ve reached their spending limits. The Chicago Cubs are crying poor and the New York Yankees are refusing to exceed the the luxury tax.
Behind closed doors, however, those same teams are celebrating salary suppression with a championship belt.
There’s no better example that epitomizes the players’ frustrations than that.
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