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MLBPA’s Tony Clark says rebuilding teams threaten integrity

Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League

Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Players Association, at a news conference in Phoenix on Feb. 19, 2017. Credit: AP / Morry Gash

With spring training just around the corner, players union chief Tony Clark on Tuesday slammed Major League Baseball for the large number of unsigned free agents, saying “the very integrity of our game” is being threatened.

“A record number of talented free agents remain unemployed in an industry where revenues and franchise values are at record highs,” Clark, the former Mets and Yankees first baseman, said in a statement. “Spring training has always been associated with hope for a new season. This year a significant number of teams are engaged in a race to the bottom. This conduct is a fundamental breach of the trust between a team and its fans and threatens the very integrity of our game.”

More than 110 of the 166 players who declared for free agency in November are unsigned, according to The Associated Press. That includes star pitchers Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish and sluggers J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.

One free agent came off the board late Monday when former Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier agreed to a two-year, $17-million deal with the Mets. That signing is pending a physical.

MLB shot back at Clark with a statement of its own: “Our clubs are committed to putting a winning product on the field for their fans. Owners own teams for one reason: They want to win. In baseball, it has always been true that clubs go through cyclical, multiyear strategies directed at winning. It is common at this point in the calendar to have large numbers of free agents unsigned. What is uncommon is to have some of the best free agents sitting unsigned even though they have substantial offers, some in nine figures. It is the responsibility of player’s agents to value their clients in a constantly changing free-agent market based on factors such as positional demand, advanced analytics and the impact of the new Basic Agreement. To lay responsibility on the clubs for the failure of some agents to accurately assess the market is unfair, unwarranted, and inflammatory.”

The Cubs and Astros won the last two World Series after “tanking,” i.e. not fielding competitive clubs for a number of seasons to earn high draft picks and build up their farm systems. Now that it has worked, the union thinks too many teams are trying the tear-down tactic.

MLB and the union have also been squabbling over commissioner Rob Manfred’s insistence on instituting new pace-of-play rules for the upcoming season. Manfred has the right to unilaterally impose new rules if the sides don’t reach an agreement.

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