After a Major League Baseball offseason in which many teams spent only cautiously and several tore down their rosters altogether, the Players Association appears ready to forcefully push back.
On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the union has filed a grievance against four teams — the Marlins, Rays, Pirates and Athletics — alleging that they are not using the money they get from the league’s revenue sharing system to improve their on-field product, as they are required by the collective bargaining agreement. The grievance comes a month after the MLBPA reportedly reached out to the Commissioner’s Office to complain about the Marlins and Pirates’ lack of spending.
The four teams cited in the MLBPA’s grievance currently own four of the seven lowest payrolls in baseball, per Sportrac. This offseason, the Marlins have traded away Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon; the Pirates have dealt Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole; and the Rays have sent off Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, Steven Souza and Corey Dickerson. The Athletics have not made any particularly drastic moves this offseason, but they haven’t ranked higher than 27th in payroll since 2014 or better than 21st since Sportrac began tracking in 2011.
Per the Tampa Bay Times, MLB’s official position is that the union’s grievance “has no merit.”
At the heart of this complaint is the idea that teams abuse the revenue-sharing system designed to close the gap between baseball’s richest and poorest teams. If franchises pocket the extra cash (as much as $45 million a year, per the Times) instead of spending it on their rosters, a mechanism that is supposed to create on-field parity serves only to enrich small-market owners.
The Rays, Marlins, A’s and Pirates’ frugality isn’t the only reason this offseason has been slow and players and murmuring about a strike, but it’s surely part of the cause. And if those teams are failing to reinvest revenue-sharing money in an effort to pad their own pockets, that’s bad for the league (which wants competitive balance), bad for players (who don’t get paid what they should) and bad for fans (who are stuck rooting for teams that aren’t even trying to win).