There was also some long-awaited pushback, as the players’ union filed a grievance with Major League Baseball against four teams — the Miami Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Oakland Athletics and the Pittsburgh Pirates — charging that the clubs are not spending their revenue-sharing money on improving the on-field product, as they are required to do.
The Marlins, Rays and Pirates traded away their franchise players this winter — Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, respectively. Those three teams issued statements disputing the charges, which were first reported by the Tampa Bay Times. Pirates President Frank Coonelly dismissed the grievance as “frivolous.”
The union’s executive director, Tony Clark, who watched Tuesday’s five-inning scrimmage, confirmed that the union had filed the grievance but declined to comment on it.
But earlier, while speaking to a handful of reporters, Clark said this was not a case of a select few teams doing a tear-down — a strategy the Astros and Chicago Cubs employed on their way to winning the last two World Series.
Clark said at least 10 of baseball’s 30 teams were not trying to win in the coming season, suppressing the free-agent market. If the Marlins, for example, had not put Stanton on the trading block, the Yankees most likely would have dipped into the free-agent market for more offense, even though they have a mandate from the owner Hal Steinbrenner to stay below the $197 million luxury tax threshold.
Nearly one-third of the 166 players who became free agents after last season remain unsigned, and Clark said that 17 teams were at least $50 million below the luxury tax threshold.
Clark was asked if, given hindsight, he had seen any of this coming while negotiating the collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified in December 2016 and runs through the 2021 season.
“For me,” Clark said, “if we had known that there was going to be upwards of a third of the league that may not be as interested in being the last team standing and therefore wouldn’t value experience on some level, then I would say yes.”
He added: “But that was never the assumption. The entire C.B.A. is grounded and fundamentally focused in on creating as many opportunities for all 30 teams as possible. I don’t know how many years you heard competitive balance, competitive balance, competitive balance.”
In the last two labor agreements, teams have won the right to cap how much they spend on the draft and on most international signings, essentially allowing them to peg the cost of a rebuild.
“Against the backdrop of not competing, yeah, that can be a huge issue,” Clark said.
An increasing reliance on analytics has also reshaped how teams value players and construct their rosters, placing a premium on younger and cheaper players. But Clark and others at Camp Jobless, including catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Tom Gordon, the former pitcher who is coaching here, said that the qualities a veteran could provide — leadership and grooming — were not being accurately accounted for. That has led to a great deal of frustration among free agents still looking for work.
“They start to lose hope, and it’s humiliating,” said Dave Gallagher, a former outfielder who is serving as a coach at the camp.
To that end, the camp, which had been closed to the news media and accessible only by appointment for scouts, opened its doors on Tuesday.
A little before 9 a.m., the players took the field in gray pants, black jerseys with a players’ association patch on the chest, and plain black caps. They played catch to warm up, took batting practice and prepared for a game — much the same way teams have at 30 sites around Florida and Arizona during spring training.
About six scouts showed up to watch, their iPads and radar guns at the ready behind home plate. Familiar names like Luke Scott, Omar Infante, Chris Johnson and Nolan Reimold took their swings, and Clippard, Tom Gorzelanny and Jim Henderson pitched against Japan Railway East, whose coach, Horii Tetsuya, said his players were below Class AAA level.
When the teams scrimmage again, on Thursday, Walker could be playing with them. A week ago, Walker — who last season played for the Mets and then the Milwaukee Brewers on a one-year, $17.2 million deal — thought he would end up with the Yankees as their second or third baseman. Then the Yankees acquired Drury, who will make the major league minimum this season.
“Maybe it’s something that’s being lost in translation with teams — how are we valuing guys?” Walker said. “Are we strictly valuing them on numbers, or are we not able to quantify how they’re making an impact, not only on the field but in the clubhouse? I’ve always felt like I’ve been somebody that’s been a leader. I guess in terms of dollars and cents, teams are not seeing that as a value at this point.”
Clippard, who made $6.15 million last season, said he had only received offers for a minor league contract so far, which he has rebuffed. He chafed at what he sees as a double standard.
“As players, if we took a year off, we’d be out of the game,” Clippard said. “But it’s O.K. for owners and organizations to take years off, and it’s actually accepted.”
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