As numerous prominent Major League Baseball free agents linger unsigned, the slowest offseason in decades has quickly crossed from a curiosity to an outrage. Last week, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said the players might have to strike, and on Friday one of the game’s most powerful agents released a scalding statement threatening a Spring Training boycott.
“Bottom line, the players are upset. No, they are outraged,” wrote Brodie Van Wagenen, co-head of the baseball division at CAA Sports. “A boycott of Spring Training may be a starting point, if behavior doesn’t change.”
Van Wagenen said that the stagnant offseason “feels coordinated” and raises “suspicion of institutional influence over the spending.” His statement ended with an instruction to teams to “Sign them; play them; celebrate them; and then sit back and let them entertain us the way they have for more than 100 years.”
— Brodie Van Wagenen (@bvanwagenen) February 2, 2018
Van Wagenen’s invocation of 1994 is clearly no accident. That was the year of the Major League players strike that resulted in the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years and by referencing it, the agent is warning owners that players won’t let them sit back and count their cash without reinvesting in their teams.
For several decades now, the players have appeased the owners on a number of issues, from strict luxury tax thresholds to spending caps on international signings, and those concessions have helped create free agents’ current predicament. But it sure seems as if this offseason has woken the players to the ways owners tend to take advantage of them. At least some segment of Major Leaguers appears to be bracing for a fight.
In all likelihood, players won’t abruptly strike (even during Spring Training) in response to one slow offseason. But if owners continue to resist free agency, labor negotiations when the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021 could get awfully ugly.