After a 2018 offseason that saw countless veterans linger on the free agent vine much longer than anticipated, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark is expecting yet another cooled stove this winter. Judging from comments made to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal on Thursday, he doesn’t sound particularly pleased about it.
“The Hot Stove season has traditionally been about ticket sales and fan engagement,” Clark told Rosenthal. “Yet several clubs are laying the groundwork for more of the same [this offseason], even as franchise values skyrocket and central revenues continue to increase. These blanket proclamations send precisely the wrong message to fans, and undermine the competitive landscape that fuels interest in the game from day one of spring training through the final game of the World Series.”
For context, it’s important to note that Clark is largely responding to recent comments made by several C-level club executives and owners around the game: Red Sox brass has indicated a desire to get under the CBT threshold in advance of 2020; the Rockies, fresh off of a fourth-place season, indicated a lack of “flexibility” in regard to finances for 2020; and, just this week, our own Steve Adams delved into the possible maneuvers the Astros could undertake in avoidance of the luxury tax line, after owner Jim Crane poured cold water on the idea of a Houston-Geritt Cole reunion. For teams at every position in the standings, “spending” has become a center-stage PR concern in 2019.
Clark also took pains to note that MLB saw a decline in gate attendance for the fourth consecutive season, with, specifically, a 1.6 percent year-over-year drop from 2018 to 2019. That such a decline would occur while another term – “tanking” – is also becoming common parlance would seem to add some teeth to Clark’s comments. In 2019, 20 teams finished with 90-or-more losses or 90-or-more wins, while a whopping eight teams finished with 100-or-more losses or 100-or-more wins.
Rosenthal’s column also features comments from MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem, who takes – as one might expect – a more tempered view of game-wide spending patterns, noting that the Minnesota Twins saw a huge jump in 2019 attendance despite a quiet 18-19 offseason in terms of spending (the club’s two “major” expenditures being a collective three years of commitment to Marwin Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz). Certainly, this instance of public back-and-forth represents an interesting bit of repartee occurring between both league and player’s union in advance of the current collective bargaining agreement’s expiration in December of 2021.