After a winter of austerity before the 2018 season led to an outcry from baseball’s labor force, the players of Major League Baseball have chosen to extend the contract of MLB Players Assn. Executive Director Tony Clark through 2022 as the union gears up for a potentially calamitous negotiation with MLB officials when the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021.
The union announced the extension Wednesday afternoon after its executive board met in Irving, Texas.
The relationship between MLB and its players’ union fractured in the offseason as teams declined to spend extravagantly on free agents. It has not become clear if the trend will continue, with top-flight players like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado expected to score lucrative contracts this winter. But the lack of spending frustrated the players, some of whom speculated publicly on the possibility of a work stoppage for the first time since 1994.
“Maybe we have to go on strike, to be honest with you,” Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said in January. The rhetoric cooled off as the season approached, but the discontent among the players remained strong.
Clark, 46, played 15 seasons in the majors. He took over as head of the union after the death of Michael Weiner in 2013. Clark drew criticism for the collective bargaining agreement negotiated in 2016, which improved on the amenities for players but did little to confront the wrinkles hampering the free-agent market, like the qualifying offer or the luxury tax.
In August, the union hired Bruce Meyer, a veteran labor attorney, to handle collective bargaining moving forward.
In the winter, as teams like the Dodgers shed salary to stay underneath the $197-million threshold, players found themselves unable to find work. High-profile free agents like Jake Arrieta did not sign until March. The union set up a spring training facility for veterans without jobs.
Some players view the root of the problem to be the fad of tanking as it expands across the front offices. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw spoke out against the practice in an interview with The Times in the spring.
“I think ultimately that there has to be more of a value for winning for each franchise,” Kershaw said. “I think that will clean up a lot of these problems. When you only have 12 to 15 teams really bidding for players, and really concerned about putting a winning product on the field, I think that’s ultimately a problem.”