BRADENTON, Fla. — Qualifying offers can hamper teams from putting their best lineups on the field in addition to affecting the market value of free agents affixed with them, Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark said Saturday.
Clark visited Pirates camp as part of his annual spring training tour. These visits come in the final spring before the current collective bargaining agreement expires, and negotiations will begin soon on a new one. The qualifying offer, a draft-pick compensation mechanism introduced when the current CBA took effect in 2012, has in some cases reduced the market for qualified free agents.
“It’s interesting that it appears a lot of the concern is player-centric, and there are player-centric issues attached to this,” Clark said. “But having rules on the books that hamstring the clubs from having the ability to do what they need to do isn’t necessarily beneficial either.”
During the first three years, every player who received a qualifying offer – a one-year contract totaling the average salary of the top 125 highest-paid players, given only to players who spent the whole season with one team – declined it. This past winter, three players accepted the $15.8 million offer. One who declined, Dexter Fowler, just re-signed with the Chicago Cubs for $13 million guaranteed – less than if he had accepted the Cubs’ offer. Another player who received the offer, Ian Desmond, still has no job.
Clark visited Pirates camp two days after the MLBPA and Major League Baseball announced new rules governing slides intended to break up double plays. He has visited four camps thus far, and “Commentary’s been OK.”
“The last thing we want to do is put anybody in harm’s way as a result of what we did here,” Clark said. “If we find out that’s the case, then what we’ve told the guys and will continue to tell the guys is, ‘Guys, what we thought was going to happen, if it is not happening and you find yourself in a worse position than you may have been in before, let us know as soon as possible and we’ll adjust accordingly.’”
Clark, who played in the majors for 15 seasons and succeeded the late Michael Weiner, is entering CBA negotiations as executive director for the first time. He said both MLB and the MLBPA continue to watch how teams use revenue sharing money in an industry whose revenue is approaching $10 billion.
“As much as we can appreciate who may have been revenue check writers and who may have been receivers, the truth is, over the course of this agreement there’s been an interesting shift and even a leveling off on some point of what you most will deem competitive balance and how teams have performed,” Clark said. “Kansas City’s been in the World Series two years in a row and you can appreciate perhaps how they got there.”
Baseball has had labor peace since the 1994-95 strike.
“We are cautiously optimistic – in much the same way that we were going into any of the last agreements coming out of 1994 or the strike date we set in 2002 –that we can find a fair and equitable deal for everybody,” Clark said.
Gerrit Cole is the Pirates’ new union representative. The Pirates traded Neil Walker, the previous rep, to the New York Mets this winter.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.