An unually quiet MLB offseason has owners, players and fans feeling an uncomfortable sense of deja vu
Will we have professional baseball this summer? For the first time since 1994, that threat is looming. Back then the issue revolved around the owners proposed implementation of a salary cap, thus limiting the ability for players to demand higher and higher salaries. Owners believed that small market teams would be left in the dust without local revenue sharing, and a salary cap. After owners withheld a required a payment to players pension and benefit plans, and an antitrust legislation failed to be passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the players and the players association saw no other option, but to strike. Players walked out for 232 days, 948 cancelled games, and the first cancelled world series since 1904. This go around, the focus is again on player salaries but under a different lense. Never in the history of the famed MLB Hot Stove has an MLB offseason been so slow. Nearly every single marquee free agent remains on the market, with few signings imminent. Only Lorenzo Cain’s 5-year, $80 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers can be pointed to as a big time signing, but even then the $100 million threshold seems to be a blip on the horizon. Salaries increased 23 percent in 2017 coming off the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, as all seemed good between owners and players. So what’s happening now that threatens the all important relationship between owners and players? On the heels of an era marked by massive sums of money being committed to players for longer, and longer periods of time. Case in point: Reigning MVP Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million monstrosity. Teams have seen these immense investments turn out poorly too many times, and it seems teams may have had their fill, but is that the whole story? In the last few days, high powered agents have released statements tip-toeing around one of the most feared word in sports, collusion. Collusion is why Pete Rose and the Black Sox were banned for life. In this case, collusion is referring to the possibility of owners colluding together to collectively holdout from signing free agents with the possible gain of reduced salaries. Understandably, the notion of ownership collusion is seen as fighting words in the eyes of players and the players association. Those in baseball operations are frustrated by the lack of funds granted by ownership to sign the scores of free agents on the market, and as some agents have suggested, all it takes is a spark before the pot boils over. Brodie van Wagenen, who represents Robinson Cano, Ryan Zimmerman and Yoenis Cespedes among others, as well as super agent Scott Boras, who represents some of the biggest names available this offseason including Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez and Jake Arrieta, have both spoken out against the perceived injustices they feel the owners have placed on players. Ironically, it seems the molasses-slow offseason has had an effect on ticket sales, as some teams are seeing slight declines from this point last year, but that could all be explained by other phenomena. The players association has been coy regarding perceived plans for a spring training boycott so far, but the growing sense from players and agents points in a different direction. Recently at the Dodgers Fan Fest, All-Star closer Kenley Jansen offered a stark point of view: “Maybe we need to go on strike, to be honest with you.” The threat of a strike looms, and while it is highly unlikely any regular season games are cancelled, there is growing sentiment that a strike to begin Spring Training may be in play. As the days go on and players remain unsigned, that sentiment grows.