Tony Clark: System needs change with players still unsigned

NEW YORK -- With spring training approaching and dozens of players still seeking jobs, union leader Tony Clark concluded baseball's current system needs change.

Among those still on the free-agent market are pitcher Yovani Gallardo, shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Dexter Fowler, who all turned down $15.8 million, one-year guaranteed contracts from their teams in November.

"I don't think it's in anyone's best interest to be in a world where very talented players are at home for whatever reason they are there. It will likely be a part of the conversation in bargaining." Tony Clark

"I think it's disappointing when there are as many talented players still without a home," Clark said during a Feb. 4 interview with The Associated Press. "I don't think it's in anyone's best interest to be in a world where very talented players are at home for whatever reason they are there. It will likely be a part of the conversation in bargaining."

A former All-Star first baseman, Clark took over as head of the Major League Baseball Players Association in late 2013 after Michael Weiner died from a brain tumor. Seven years removed from his playing days, Clark, 43, is the first former player to head the union.

Clark will lead players in negotiations for a labor contract to replace the deal that expires Dec. 1. After eight work stoppages from 1972-85, baseball has had more than two decades of industry peace.

When the current deal was reached, head labor negotiator Rob Manfred -- now the commissioner -- wrote a memorandum to team executives on Nov. 22, 2011, and estimated eight to 10 free agents annually would receive qualifying offers -- the average of the 125 highest-paying contracts -- which attaches the loss of a top amateur draft pick for a team that signs a new player. There were nine offers in 2012 and the number climbed to 13 the following year, 12 in 2014 and 20 this offseason, when there was a deep free-agent class.

"If there are considerations in areas that appear to be damaging the concept of competitive balance, then they should be reviewed and looked at, and this would appear to be one of them," Clark said.

Other topics:

A lottery for top draft picks

Clubs draft in the reverse order of their winning percentage the previous season, perhaps an incentive to trade talent late in the season once executives realize a playoff berth is out of reach. A lottery to determine the order of top picks, such as the NBA has had since 1985 and the NHL has had since 1995, might change behavior.

"It will be beneficial to look at that," Clark said, "and not look at it in a vacuum but appreciate whatever it is that we attempt to negotiate there or propose there, that it ties into the other moving pieces and doesn't create an imbalance."

Management's desire for an international draft

"While conceptually it sounds nice to think of everyone entering the game in same fashion, the truth is there are significant issues," he said. "It will undoubtedly be part of the negotiation in '16, and it will be very interesting to see how that discussion manifests itself."

Luxury tax threshold

The threshold for the luxury tax rose from $148 million in 2007 to $178 million by 2011, the previous labor deal's final season. It remained there through 2013, then climbed to $189 million, where it has remained. While industry revenue has grown and the average salary has increased about 40 percent since 2007, the threshold has gone up about 28 percent. That appears to have suppressed spending by most large-market teams.

"We were coming out of a very difficult time with the recession in 2008-09," Clark said. "As the industry continues to grow, considerations made to the competitive balance tax should grow as well."

Cutting the schedule

"We've had conversations in the past related to the length of the season. Those conversations didn't end up going anywhere. I don't know that they'll go anywhere this time," Clark said. "There's a number of things on and off the field that can be done."

Decrease in offense

"I think a lot of it is going to be cyclical," Clark said. "Some of it may be tied to a particular year of weather vs. not weather. Some of it may be tied to fences being adjusted vs. not."

Raising the strike zone's bottom

"You've got to be very careful about how you adjust something that fundamentally adjusted itself apparently over the last 20 years or so," he said.

Possible London games in 2017

"Players understand and appreciate that as the industry grows, everyone benefits. But there's a delicate balance that has to be struck in ensuring that as much of the norm can be established for guys to do what they need to do once they get there," he said.

Equal September roster sizes

"We discussed as recently as 2011 formally what may make the most sense. Unfortunately, we weren't able to find common ground at that time," he said. "I'm sure we'll have the conversation. Perhaps this go-around we can find some common ground on considerations in September or any other month that may make sense."

Prospects kept in minors, delaying arbitration and free agency

"It would be great to assume that any of those decisions ... were simply tied to the continued development of that particular ballplayer," he said. "I haven't been in any club's rooms to know for certain that that is indeed why a decision was made vs. not."