Union scolds MLB for awarding arbitration 'belt'

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark scolded the MLB and its teams for making a game out of the arbitration process by awarding a toy championship belt to the team deemed having done the best to keep salaries down.

"That clubs make sport of trying to suppress salaries in a process designed to produce fair settlements shows a blatant lack of respect for our Players, the game, and the arbitration process itself," Clark said in a statement issued Friday.

The MLB told The Athletic, in a story about the competitiveness of arbitration, that the toy belt -- an "informal" trophy -- exists as "recognition of those [clubs'] salary arbitration departments that did the best."

Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield tweeted Friday that awarding the belt "is embarrassing and a huge reason we continue to fight for our rights and fair compensation as players."

Added Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Chris Archer: "If this is true, it's perplexing & frustrating. In a 10+ billion dollar industry why is there so much greed?"

More than 175 players were eligible for arbitration this offseason. Teams, however, settled with the majority of those players as only 10 cases actually reached the arbitration process.

Of those 10 cases, players won six -- giving them a winning record for the third time in four years, but just the fifth time since 1996 and the 11th time since arbitration started in 1974.

"I was mad that it seems like they're celebrating that version of competition and not celebrating the game," Houston Astros pitcher Collin McHugh told The Athletic on Friday. "... That should be the thing that gets celebrated on a daily basis. To see that MLB seems more interested in celebrating the suppression of arbitration salaries than that, is not a good look. It's embarrassing."

Even with huge new contracts for Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado, Major League Baseball's average salary dropped on Opening Day for an unprecedented second straight season, according to The Associated Press.

The average salary is now approximately $4,375,000 -- a drop of $36,000 from last season.

Of the more than 850 players on a roster on Opening Day this season, more than 40 percent earned close to the league minimum of $555,000, USA Today reported.

The players' association calculated last season's final average at $4,095,686 and MLB did so at $4,007,987. The average is based on rosters and injured lists of Aug. 31, the last day before the active player limit expanded from 25 to 40. The union includes option buyouts in its average calculation and MLB does not.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.