MLBPA’S Tony Clark says rising payrolls good for game
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – A handful of free-spending owners in Major League Baseball have made some of the game’s other owners a little nervous.
Players’ union head Tony Clark doesn’t mind that development one bit.
“Baseball is doing very well,” Clark said on Saturday as the first full slate of spring training games began in Florida and Arizona.
Clark’s perspective isn’t shared by all. There’s a group of owners – including Pittsburgh’s Bob Nutting – who believe that a recent jump in free agent spending is part of the reason smaller market teams, like the Pirates, struggle to remain competitive. It’s one of the reasons MLB recently formed an economic reform committee.
“It’s the single biggest issue facing the Pittsburgh Pirates,” Nutting told the Pittsburgh Post-gazette on Friday. “Competitive disparity, revenue disparity and payroll disparity are all real challenges.”
This offseason, salaries have risen following last year’s agreement on a five-year labor contract with the players’ association. Payrolls rose 12.6% to a $4.56 billion last year, breaking the previous record set in 2017, and are set to go even higher this year.
The New York Mets, entering their third season under owner Steve Cohen, project a payroll upwards of about $370 million – which would smash the previous high of $291 million by the 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers.
Some so-called smaller market teams have even joined the spending surge. The San Diego Padres have been very active with free agents over the past few years, adding standouts like shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
Clark said that’s evidence that teams from markets of all sizes can compete financially and on the field, noting that the Padres have seen an uptick in fan interest.
“Teams were competing, engaging in the free agent market and created a level of excitement that I would think is a positive,” Clark said.
There’s no doubt that economic disparity exists in baseball. While the Mets are set to spend around $370 million on payroll, others like the Orioles, Rays, Pirates and Athletics are expected to be in the $60-80 million range.
The causes for that disparity are where friction occurs between MLBPA and MLB.
“The question that should be asked in regards to one team’s payroll versus another, is whether or not that team is making a conscious decision to have its payroll there, or whether it has the ability to increase its payroll,” Clark said.
“The answer is the latter, not the former.”
MINOR LEAGUE UNION
Clark said he remains “optimistic” that ongoing labor negotiations between the MLBPA’S minor-league wing and MLB will continue to progress in a positive direction.
More than 5,500 minor league baseball players formed a union in September in an effort to boost annual salaries as low as $10,400. Negotiations began in November to secure the first labor agreement for the minor leagues.
“Has some progress been made? Yes,” Clark said. “But there’s still tangible work that needs to be done.”