Over the previous two offseasons the teams in Major League Baseball and the free agents in Major League Baseball have been having a bit of an issue coming to a common ground. While you’ve seen superstars get paid, pretty much anyone below the $150M contract threshold has watched teams essentially say “pass” and wait it out and hope to sign them for 50% of what they would have gotten just 3-4-5 years ago in free agency. A guy like Dallas Kuechel had to wait until June to sign a 3-month contract despite being a proven, reliable, above-average starting pitcher.

Many in the media, and even some players have talked about how it certainly feels like the teams are colluding to bring salaries down. Multiple players complained and or noted how “weird” it was when on the same day, after not getting any offers all offseason, they got multiple offers that were nearly identical. This was reported by The Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel and The Athletic’s Jayson Stark for different players. Jordan Bastian of MLB.com also relayed a similar story of this happening to Brad Brach last year.

Before the World Series was even over this year there were multiple teams already talking about needing to cut payroll. Teams like the Boston Red Sox, who can literally print money, are trying to cut significant amounts of payroll. The St. Louis Cardinals have said they too are not going to be adding anything to their payroll. Why? Because the Cardinals are in the real estate business, too, and they have money tied up in buildings that have nothing at all to do with baseball. They aren’t the only ones, but you can see where I’m going with this. With ever growing revenues in the sport, teams are trying to spend less money on the product on the field.

The players union isn’t happy. Nor should they be. There’s certainly something to be said about their part in this. They fought for the dumbest stuff in the last collective bargaining agreement instead of fighting for things that mattered. They didn’t foresee that teams were going to stop paying veteran non-stars, and did nothing to improve the pay for pre-free agency players to counter act that. The union certainly messed up. But there also feels like there’s a lot of bad faith going on from the owners when it comes to sharing the revenue growth with the players, too.

And over the weekend one General Manager made a statement that caught the eye of the MLBPA, as well as some journalists. On a conference call with the local media, Atlanta Braves General Manager said this:

Every day you get more information. And we’ve had time to connect with 27 of the clubs – obviously the Astros and (Nationals) being in the World Series, they were tied up – but we had a chance to get a sense of what the other clubs are going to look to do in free agency, who might be available in trades.

There are a lot of ways that you can take that statement. But before diving any further into it, we need to be sure to understand the rules set forth in the collective bargaining agreement about teams discussing free agency. You can read the entire CBA here if you want to waste a whole lot of time, but here’s the part to focus on with regards to this situation:

Players shall not act in concert with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs.

Teams are explicitly not allowed to discuss free agent plans with other teams. The reason is easy to figure out: They can collude by doing this to keep prices down. And it’s not as if they haven’t done this before. They were busted for it in the 80’s and had to pay the players association hundreds of millions of dollars for doing it.

What was said by Alex Anthopoulos isn’t proof that teams are doing this. But it’s certainly another brick in the evidence wall. This is a little bit different than what happens at the yearly GM meetings where each team will tell the other teams what they could be looking to add via trade in the offseason. Discussing trades is allowed. Discussing plans for free agency isn’t.

Do I believe that Anthopoulos was actually calling other teams and asking specifically about their free agency plans in regards to players? No, I don’t. But I also don’t think that they should be given the benefit of the doubt with how things have been going lately, either. The MLBPA should investigate the situation. That’s a part of their job.

Late last night the Braves and Anthopoulos released a statement:

In advance of the General Managers meetings, I called around to Clubs to explore the possibility of potential off-season trades. At no time during any of these calls was there discussion of individual free agents or the Braves’ intentions with respect to the free agent market. To the extent I indicated otherwise during my media availability on Monday, I misspke and apologize for any confusion.

This is one of those apologies where if true, of course this is what you put out. But it’s also one of those apologies where if not true, of course this is what you put out. Unless there’s a recording of the conversations had (spoiler alert: there isn’t), and unless another team is willing to say that you and they in fact did have those conversations (spoiler alert: they won’t), then it’s almost impossible to prove otherwise.

So what does this all mean? Well, if nothing else, it gives us a better idea that the teams and the players are absolutely nowhere near thrilled with each other. The players union doesn’t trust the owners as far as they can throw them, and things are going to be contentious. The players feel they aren’t getting their fair share, and that they are being actively worked against. When the collective bargaining agreement expires following the 2021 season, unless there’s an enormous shift in how things are right now, some of us baseball writers may have to find some part time work with no baseball to cover.

11 Responses

  1. Stock

    Agreed. I was under the impression that the intention of arbitration was that a player receive 80% of his market value in the last year 60% in the next year and 40% his first year. Kevin Gausman is a great example. Arbitration he should get 10 million. He is not worth 5 million.

  2. stock

    When you sign is no indication of collusion. To say Keuchel signing in June even though he is not a bad pitcher is not right. He would still be a FA if his asking price was 100 million a year. He would have been signed right away if he asked for a 1 year $10 million contract. Fact of the matter is his asking price prior to May 1 was greater than teams were willing to pay.

  3. Stock

    As said above the constraint has more to do with the collective bargaining agreement than it has to do with collusion. Exceeding the salary cap is very expensive. The Yankees and Dodgers have decided too expensive and they cut payroll to get under the cap. Baltimore, the White Sox, Tigers and Royals are in tear down and rebuild mode. This is new to baseball but does have an impact on salaries.

    Salaries in baseball are up 6% the last three years. get rid of the teams mentioned above and salaries are up 20% over the last three years. Sounds to me like 24 of the MLB teams did not get the collusion email. Maybe they should check their spam.

  4. Stock

    Maybe teams are finding out that signing teams to huge contracts or acquiring huge contracts are not good business.

    How did it work out for the Reds? The Homer Bailey extension was a disaster. The Joey Votto extension is looking pretty bad the next 4 years.

    How did it work out when the Yankees took on Stanton’s contract?

    What about the Giants acquiring Cueto and Samardzija in the same year in free agency?

    What about the Padres acquiring Machado and Hosmer?

    I am sure the Cub fans are elated about the money spent on Darvish, Chatwood and Heyward.

    I am sure the Brewers are looking forward to the next three years of Cain after his 1.5 war from last year

    In Colorado the Wade Davis, Ian Desmond and Dan Murphy signings were flops.

    The list goes on and on. Assuming no injury the stars are stars. Gerritt Cole will earn his money if he stays healthy. However, more often than not the $60 – $150 million contracts come back to bite their teams in the back end.

    Call it collusion if you like. I just think teams are finally waking up and the players pay the price because they play for the cheap when they have value.

    • Datdudejs

      This^^^^ Teams are just being smart with their money, and realizing that spending a ton of money on free agents is too risky and really hurts teams that don’t have a ton of money

    • Scott

      I agree with your assessment. With the analytics available today, teams are realizing that veteran with a 1.5 WAR is not a good value, when someone cheaper can get similar production.

  5. joshtrum

    I think the real issue is teams manipulating a system to pay players the minimum as long as possible, once players can actually earn money (which they deserve from not being properly compensated before) the players are not because teams are reducing payroll, there is a middle ground in which MLB players can get fairly compensated, and owners aren’t sinking as much money into players who can become sunk costs. However, no one likes compromise. Also, everyone who reads this likes a raise, and while yes, baseball players do get paid a whack and a half of money which makes this social worker die inside, if there’s pie on the table to be had, we all want our fair piece and the compensation we deserve based on the market value, and money available.

  6. Satchmo


    When a bunch of workers/players get together to form a collective effort to raise salaries it’s called “organized labor”, and we celebrate it. When the folks that own the company/team get together to form a collective effort to suppress salaries it’s called “collusion” and we brand it as heresy.

    The fact is that the owners are making millions of dollars, which is fairly normal for folks that run cooperations worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Players are making millions of dollars playing a game, which is decidedly abnormal (and a sign of a decadent American culture with it’s values way out of whack). Perhaps, then, the decline in player salaries isn’t the collusion boogeyman but simply the market making a correction toward something the general public have always known: it is obscene for a grown man to make millions of dollars playing a game.

  7. Hotto4Votto

    Are owners colluding to keep salaries down? Possibly. Could it also be a shift in how they value players as they progress on the aging curve? Those hitting FA in their prime are still scoring big, lengthy contracts. Those on the wrong side of thirty are the ones more often waiting, and those with QO offers attached.
    Nothing AA said makes me think it’s collusion. Of course you’re going to get a feel for other team’s plans in FA by deduction. If teams have obvious openings, and they’re not exploring those openings through trades, it’s logical to conclude that they will look to the FA market. None of this even considers most teams plans are largely public knowledge. This thing called the internet will allow you to read up on other GM comments, plans, and beat writers speculation.

  8. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I will state it this way.

    First, if clubs are doing similar things, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are colluding. For instance, myself, back in the days of Homer, when we were trying to unload him to the Yankees, I couldn’t help thinking, “If I was the Yankees man, I would simply wait till the end of the season, sign Homer as a FA if I still want him then. So, I would still get Homer as well as I get to keep my prospects.” If I can think of that, I would think a lot of good baseball people would be considering a similar thing.

    Now, as far as offering similar contracts, there are a lot of similar contracts out there for a lot of players. But, when we are talking about one individual player, the question would be just how similar are the contracts. For example, are they all 3 years $50 million? Then, sure, there is probably colllusion. But, from how I understand contracts get offered, some may be 2 years, some 3, or even 4 years. To me, that’s not necessarily collusion. Teams are simply looking to set their team up like that. Similar with the financials.

    So, if players are going to try to prove collusion simply because they are getting offered “similar contracts”, they are going to have to prove that teams are, in fact, getting together and talking about what to offer specific players. If the players are getting offered “the same contracts” from teams, then the players probably wouldn’t have to prove teams actually meeting.

  9. Eugene Reds

    This comment thread is like an all you can lick boot buffet.