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Olney: Who will counsel MLB, union to avoid labor strife?

Can commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark avoid a clash? Maybe with a little help. Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

Buried beneath the anticipation of Manny Machado's tour of teams and a continued flurry of trades, The Associated Press published news that was jarring and yet completely unsurprising to some agents and executives: For the first time since 2004, the average salary of major league players declined.

Not by much, mind you. In 2017, players averaged $4,097,122, and this year, that dipped by about $1,500 to $4,095,686. But those numbers are another clue about a dramatic salary slowdown developing over the past five years. It's a trend that's not good for the union, for obvious reasons, and not good for management, because of how it affects an already dysfunctional dynamic between MLB and the players' association.

The time has come for the two sides to seriously consider some out-of-the-box ideas to jump-start conversations and improve the working relationship before the expiration of the current labor agreement after the 2021 season. Right now, MLB and the union are like a married couple barely on speaking terms, desperately in need of counseling before there is an ugly breach. For baseball, that would be a labor stoppage, which union officials have spoken of with players and agents.