A prominent Major League Baseball agent said Friday that a "fight is brewing'' over the lack of free agent activity in the game this offseason, and said a spring training boycott might be on the horizon if teams don't begin signing players soon.
Agent Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA stopped short of using the word "collusion,'' but said the behavior of owners "feels coordinated, rightly or wrongly.''
"There is a rising tide among players for radical change,'' Van Wagenen said in a Twitter post Friday. "A fight is brewing. And it may begin with one, maybe two, and perhaps 1,200 willing to follow. A boycott of spring training may be a starting point, if behavior doesn't change.
"Bottom line, the players are upset. No, they are outraged. Players in the midst of long-term contracts are as frustrated as those still seeking employment. Their voices are getting louder and they are uniting in a way not seen since 1994.''
Commissioner Rob Manfred, addressing the slow Hot Stove market at the quarterly owners' meetings in Beverly Hills, California, on Thursday, cited a number of factors that have contributed to the lack of activity this winter.
"Every [free-agent] market is different,'' Manfred told reporters. "There's different players, different quality of players, different GMs, different decisions, a new basic agreement, different agents who had particular prominence in a particular market in terms of who they represent.
"Those factors, and probably others that I can't tick off the top of my head, have combined to produce a particular market this year. Just like there's been some markets where the lid got blown off in terms of player salary growth, occasionally you're going to have some that are not quite as robust.''
Although MLB declined to respond to Van Wagenen's statement directly, the commissioner's office has said privately that a spring training boycott would be an 'egregious violation'' of baseball's collective bargaining agreement.
Van Wagenen represents such prominent players as Ryan Zimmerman, Robinson Cano, Jacob deGrom, Yoenis Cespedes and Ian Desmond. The CAA group also represents current free agents Todd Frazier, Andrew Cashner, Jon Jay, Jason Vargas, Chris Young and Matt Belisle - all of whom remain unsigned.
Van Wagenen joins Scott Boras as the second high-profile agent to publicly question the lack of activity in a dormant winter for baseball free agency. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain's five-year, $80 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers is the most lucrative deal of the offseason. Meanwhile, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are among dozens of free agents still looking for work.
More than 90 players from this year's initial free agent crop are still unsigned, according to the Major League Baseball Players Association.
"Many club presidents and general managers with whom we negotiate are frustrated with the lack of funds to sign the plethora of good players still available, raising further suspicion of institutional influence over the spending,'' Van Wagenen said in his statement. "Even the algorithms that have helped determine player salaries in recent years are suggesting dramatically higher values than owners are willing to spend.''
Rhetoric from the players' side has grown increasingly more combative as spring training approaches. Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen told reporters, "Maybe we need to go on strike, to be honest with you,'' during the team's recent fan festival. Van Wagenen, similarly, said owners are testing the players' resolve with their lack of offseason spending.
"I would suggest that testing the will of 1,200 alpha males at the pinnacle of their profession is not a good strategy for 30 men who are bound by a much smaller fraternity,'' Van Wagenen said. "These 1,200 players have learned first-hand that battles are won through teamwork, and they understand that championships can't be achieved by individuals. They are won by a group united by a singular focus. Victory at all costs. They are willing to sweat for it; they are willing to sacrifice for it; they are willing to cry for it; and most importantly, they are willing to bleed for it.''
Baseball has not had a work stoppage since 1994-95, when the owners' threats to impose a salary cap prompted players to go on strike in August 1994. After commissioner Bud Selig canceled the World Series, the dispute was settled in late April of 1995, and MLB has enjoyed an unprecedented run of labor peace in the 23 years since.