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Major-League Machinations? This odd offseason
2003-01-29 00:23
by Mike Carminati

Major-League Machinations?

This odd offseason has been peppered by theories of owner collusion ever since they en masse decided not to tendor contracts to a large numebr of arbitration-eligible players. Agents then started to question the methodology behind free agent signing. And now it seems that the players are preparing to file a grievance according to an ESPN report.

The players took the first step by requesting team negotiation information with free agents. It seems that the agents are complaining that everyone is offering the same thing wherever they go. Of course, it may just be a means for said agents to justify their percentages (if everyone offers about the same thing, why do the players need agents?). It may also be just a result of the near salary cap instituted in the last Collecting Bargaining Agreement. However, there are a number of signs (the non-tendors, the proliferation of one-year contracts, the universally low offers to free agents, etc.) that indicate that an investigation is warranted. We'll just have to see how it plays out.

The owners, on the other hand, are happier than an Angel fan beating his Thindersticks (pardon the expression) to the beat of the Rally Monkey. Witness the following two articles:

First, KC owner David Glass gets to run his team into the ground under the premise that building teams on young players with a low payroll was the basis of the Angels, A's and Twins' championship years in 2002. These teams did it slowly around good young talent. There is some talent in KC (Mike Sweeney, Carlos Beltran, and Raul Ibanez), but there are also a whole lot of Triple-A players masquerading as big-leaguers. Their staff alone is peopled by a number of underachieving prospects that earned their jobs more from the management's unwillingness to pay Paul Byrd and Jeff Suppan-type salaries rather than their performance on the field in 2002. As Elvis, Costello that is, said, "All little sisters like to try on big sister's clothes."

Meanwhile, Mike Berardino has a morally represhensible little piece of , er, rather on the Marlins' new policy excluding multi-year salaries.

Marlins decision-makers, however, make no apologies for this approach. Nor should they. Rather, if this year goes as they hope, they might launch a countertrend that has been long overdue in professional sports.

Call it fiscal sanity. Call it flexibility first. Or just call it smart business.

"One of the things in sports that is never talked about that I think is critical is incentive-based pay," Marlins President David Samson says. "One of the issues in baseball is when you've got a player signed to a long-term deal and all of sudden, he's not playing. What are you supposed to do?

"If you're not the Yankees, then you've got a real problem."

Again the trendy Yankee bashing. No one bashes Tom Hicks for signing players to unwieldy salaries and then sucking. Anyway, the Marlins have returned to the days of jive, as Mr. Joel would say, and try to sell it as if they found something new. Back in the 19th century players were signed to one-year contracts. Then teams decided that continuity was best--at least for their wallets when they had to compete with other teams to retain their talent--and slowly instituted the reserve clause. Rival leagues appearred from time to time and players jumped their contracts to sign with teams from those leagues until MLB either subsumed the league or crushed it out of existence. Actually if this engenders universal free agency every year, it will drive down salaries. This is something that Marvin Miller discusses having dreaded in his autobiography and something that only one owner (Bill Veeck, of course) understood in the nascent days of free agency.

One thing that would be interesting if all teams went to one-year contracts eventually: A rival league could start up over night and recruit the available talent without worrying about MLB suing over broken contracts. Anyone for the Continental League Mach II?

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