Full text of agent Jeff Berry's memo to players:
Unity -- Leverage -- Action
For more than a decade there's been a calculated and increasing encroachment on player rights and further institutionalization of the way all 30 Major League teams spend, operate and act. Despite increasing MLB revenues and franchise valuations, in this new world order of analytics, aging curves, tanking, shifting, openers, bullpenning, declining attendance and declining salaries, players should and do feel vulnerable and unsure.
Commissioner Manfred has publicly blamed Tony Clark and the PA for everything from down-trending attendance, pace of play, lack of communication skills and for not understanding the analytic evolution of player valuations. MLB has publicly blamed agents for "their failure to accurately assess the market." The Commissioner has gone so far as to blame Mike Trout for a lack of commercial appeal. None of it true, but that doesn't stop MLB and Commissioner Manfred from spouting this destabilizing narrative.
During media day at the 2018 All-Star Game, Commissioner Manfred stated there's "no big rush" to do anything because we're in the middle of a labor contract. He also said, "the only purposeful behavior that took place in the free agent market last year is, our clubs carefully analyzed the available players and made individual decisions as to what they thought those players were worth" ... and that we'll all see "that the clubs made sound decisions as to how those players should be valued. That's how markets operate."
The players are the Union. Therefore, it is ultimately the responsibility of player driven leadership to construct an agenda that unites and inspires the membership. Given that we're in the middle of a labor agreement, players must organize within the parameters of the CBA (just as the LRD/Clubs are doing) and take steps to empower themselves and the MLBPA. Rather than saber rattling about a potential strike in three years, the focus should be on taking pro-active steps to address current labor issues in the hope of avoiding a strike in 2021.
Below are potential strategies designed to spark membership dialogue, unity and leverage that will hopefully lead to productive interaction with MLB prior to expiration of the current CBA.
ARBITRATION FILE & TRIAL:
Arbitration has been completely institutionalized by the LRD [MLB Labor Relations Department] and is no longer a team vs. player system. It's now an LRD vs. singular player/agent system. GM's and/or Asst. GM's are rarely involved as most negotiations are now handled by lower level employees. This team "negotiator" is given marching orders and a drop-dead number from the LRD. If the player does not agree to the LRD number, the LRD arranges for outside counsel to take over the case in preparation for trial.
This systematic approach has removed individual team responsibility and exposure and has successfully stagnated arb salaries. Regardless of the status of the team/player relationship, individual teams no longer feel accountable or burdened by having to determine their own settlement number and/or the decision to take a player to a hearing as they're just following the "rules." This LRD constructed file and trial system undermines the intent of the arbitration process and has marginalized individual player leverage and valuations.
In response to what the LRD has done, consideration should be given to creating an arb system of LRD vs. MLBPA. Under the current LRD vs. player dynamic, far too many players and agents act out of individual fears and self-preservation rather than the best interests of the player(s).
There are two distinct arbitration approaches that could unify players, agents and the MLBPA by asserting group leverage in the arb process. Both approaches would also serve as notice to MLB of the renewed strength and commitment of the Union membership:
1. MLBPA assigns a specific value to every single player in the arb system. If that number is not reached via pre-exchange negotiations, then that player goes to a hearing. This straightforward systematic approach eliminates individual discretion, mitigates exposure, minimizes variances and creates the opportunity for the PA to work with agents and players to coordinate and maximize player values.
2. MLBPA and all players/agents agree that there will be no pre-exchange 1-year arb negotiations. The MLBPA assigns an exchange value to every player and simply exchanges numbers with the LRD on the designated exchange date. Again, if all players and agents are following the same coordinated "rules," there's mitigation of individual exposure and a unification of all arb eligible players against the LRD's coordinated file and trial system.
Given that tendered players will receive a raise whether they win or lose in arbitration, attacking the arb system is an ideal battleground for MLBPA/players/agents to take a unified stand and to feel empowered and proactive rather than victimized. While arbitration has long been a "selling point" for agents against their competition, given the current environment, agents should support this proposed strategy in recognition of bigger picture labor issues facing the players and game.
SERVICE TIME, SALARY STRUCTURE, ANALYTICS & AGING CURVES
On the front end, teams manipulate service time in order to delay arbitration and/or gain a 7th year of team control. These practices, despite undermining the integrity of the game and intent of the CBA, are considered "smart business". On the back end, teams cite analytics and aging curves when devaluing veteran players. Teams currently extract the premium of a players' career at relatively low costs while simultaneously depleting the player of much of his asset value before he's able to market his services to other potential employers.
Young "star" players (those likely to reach free agency) are the most irreplaceable assets in the game as they provide extreme value, production and importance to their clubs relative to the dollars committed to them. Given how teams are manipulating service time and making "business decisions" based on what's best for the club, it only makes sense for players to likewise make "smart business decisions".
To implement this "player first" strategy, the MLBPA would outsource a comprehensive study that analytically supports recommended guidelines for player usage for the stated purpose of maximizing health and performance, maintaining/improving tools and athleticism, and mitigating age and usage related decline. Basically, a reverse engineering of the aging curves and usage rates that teams are currently weaponizing against the players.
Once presented to and approved by the membership, the MLBPA would issue the usage guidelines to the clubs, removing from the player the individual burden of dictating availability to his employer. At minimum, the impact of this united membership position could jump start conversation regarding service manipulation and the inequities of the current salary system.
Front offices are praised as "smart" when working within the rules to extract maximum performance value for minimal monetary cost. Shouldn't players also be "smart" and likewise make calculated decisions within the rules to maintain and extend their maximum performance levels at maximum monetary values?
PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT/ROSTER MANIPULATION:
In addition to service time manipulation, teams are now more than ever using the system to option and/or DL players for non-performance reasons in order to gain the perceived slightest advantage in an upcoming series. Bullpen arms are in a constant state of flux across the game and this manipulation has now extended into starters and position players. This type of "portfolio management" not only costs the player service time and money, it dehumanizes the individual player, undermines the concept of team and further alienates player/club relations. These transactions are done behind the facade of what's best for the "team" with little to no consideration given to what's best for the individual player or the clubhouse.
These questionable team behaviors are unfortunately allowable "management rights" under the current CBA, leaving players minimal legal standing or leverage. Given those circumstances, the MLBPA should track and determine if each option is either performance or non-performance related. Having the MLBPA, rather than the individual player or agent, publicly disavow each non-performance related option may pressure clubs to limit or change their questionable behaviors.
MISCELLANEOUS MEMBERSHIP CONSIDERATIONS:
1. All players report to Spring Training on the mandatory reporting date. As outlined in the CBA, players are not required to report to Spring Training until February 23 (33 days prior to Opening Day). However, MLB has scheduled Spring Training games on February 21 and 22 with a full slate of Grapefruit and Cactus League games scheduled on February 23.
2. Boycott of interviews/participation on the MLB-owned MLB Network and any of its employees/affiliates.
3. Boycott of all off-season team "Fan Fests" and caravans.
4. Boycott of all individual team/MLB requested autograph and memorabilia signings.
5. Boycott of all individual team/MLB promotional commercials and marketing initiatives.
6. Player and agent boycott of the General Manager meetings (no physical presence).
7. Player and agent boycott of the Winter Meetings (no physical presence).
8. Organized "group hold-out" of most valuable/most important team-controlled players.
9. Boycott of MLB position players pitching in MLB games.
Last offseason was a disaster for players and the MLBPA. Rather than simply accepting the status quo and rumbling toward a work stoppage, unified membership strategies should be considered and potentially implemented well before expiration of the CBA.
Major League Baseball and the LRD have proven to be well organized and formidable. There are now limitations, caps and penalties on player spending at every level (draft, international, minor & major league), yet front offices across the game are ever expanding in size and exploding executive salaries and payrolls. This shift of power away from the players has created within front offices a sense of intellectual superiority, arrogance and a continually growing disrespect for the men in uniform, including their own managers.
Despite MLB's inexplicable campaign to devalue their greatest assets, the game and its ability to entertain and connect with generations of fans, has and always will be driven by the players and their incredible efforts, talents and accomplishments.