MLBPA boss Tony Clark discusses key CBA issues facing Blue Jays

Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. – A key focal point for the Toronto Blue Jays in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement talks between owners and players is whether changes are coming to the amateur draft and international free agency, two vital areas of player procurement for the organization.

Between teams tanking in order to secure larger draft and international signing bonus pools to free agents left dangling on the market after being tagged with qualifying offers, there is the potential for significant changes.

Tony Clark, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, made clear after his annual visit with Blue Jays players, one that lasted two hours Wednesday, that the qualifying offer mechanism to compensate teams losing free agents is “something worthy of more discussion.”

But Clark also made clear that every issue due to come up – including the luxury tax threshold, the entry points for amateur players, revenue sharing, a potential draft lottery – could only be properly examined as a whole, and not viewed piecemeal.

“There are considerations that certain clubs have where they value X, whatever X is, more than another team values X,” he said during a 30-minute discussion with media. “Having flexibility for the club to do what they need to do against whatever value they’re putting on X, Y, or Z is important. However any time you sit down and interject new systems or new pieces into a conversation, you appreciate there may be unintended consequences that damage or hurt the industry on some level or become a broader part of the conversation on some level than they could be or should be.

“So talking or looking at anything in isolation … is dangerous against the backdrop of knowing that this one is connected to this one, which is connected to this one so that as a result we have to look globally at how these pieces fit, and then determine if we can find common ground.”

Another area of interest for the Blue Jays front office given that both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are in the American League East is whether the competitive balance tax, or luxury tax, rises from its current level of $189 million.

Clark noted that “historically the competitive balance tax has increased as the industry value has increased,” and that “having a conversation about how any of those numbers should move has value. … [We] are excited that the industry grew to the fashion that it did, and are looking forward to having a conversation about how that may manifest itself in an area like the competitive balance tax.”

Here are some other highlights of his comments to media:

• On his assessment of how the qualifying offer has worked over the course of the current CBA, which expires in December: “Being in a position where clubs feel their hands are tied and players feel like their hands are tied, especially when you’re talking about some of the best players in the game, I don’t know how that benefits everybody. As a result of just that, let alone any of the other things that tend to be tied in, that makes it worthy of some more dialogue, because at the end of the day giving every club, on some level, access to the talent that they have an interest in signing and being part of the organization, to do whatever they need to do to be competitive, making sure that all of those avenues are available to them is important.”

• On Aroldis Chapman’s decision to not appeal his 30-game suspension: “We offered our support for him deciding not to appeal. I will never apologize for a decision that a member makes in making sure that his due process and his rights are protected. The due process worked from the standpoint of us putting something in place that allowed for educated dialogue to happen along the way.”

• On whether the Blue Jays’ revenue from local TV rights is in line with what other clubs receive: “I won’t suggest to you what information we have and what we don’t have, but will suggest that what we’ve seen, even in some of the markets that haven’t had an opportunity to maximize that [broadcast revenue] relationship, even some of those markets have been doing better and as a result, the entire industry has elevated itself.

“One of the important pieces with respect to Toronto has to do with the size of the market, has to do with any number of decisions that the organization has made over the last 3-4-5 years and how the narrative has shifted a bit with how the team itself has functioned against how any of those deals may have manifested themselves. In other words, I don’t think it was an accident the team had the success that it has had of late as the result of the opportunities that the organization took advantage of with the resources that it had at the time it had it.

“What happens here moving forward is going to be very interesting. The team and its makeup, you hope the success continues because that’s going to lend itself to a different narrative, and if something shifts in the next couple of years. But we appreciate the ebb and flow at the top of the food chain, or somewhere beneath the top of the food chain, there has been a benefit over the past few years with respect to the [local broadcast] contracts that those teams have been able to put in place.”

• On whether the split of revenue between owners and players is equitable: “There’s been a lot of dialogue about – and I’m using air quotes – players’ share. You hear it often in a lot of the other leagues and you hear the leagues compared often times. The system that we have allows for that ebb and flow, and that ebb and flow is important. So you may have years where the percentage moves one way or the other, or you may have other years where whatever it did the last time, it changed again. We have information that is not made public, nor will it be made public, so we have a more defined appreciation for what a percentage – air quotes again – is versus what it isn’t.

“As a result, there were years going back the last five or 10 where it was shifting one way, but I can suggest to you that as of the last few, it’s shifted the other. The system that is in place allows for that ebb and flow, and as we sit now, you may have heard a number of folks offer different percentages. The percentage for players, the percentage for ownership of share has us in a place where that balance is fairly even.”

On the potential of a draft lottery: “I think that having a conversation about a draft that does what the draft is supposed to do makes sense. What do I mean by that? Having a conversation about the draft such that the teams need and want the best talent and have access to it while appreciating that there are teams based on any number of things where the value of X talent to this club may be more than it is to this club.

“Having a system in place that takes any and all of that into account as an opportunity to address different areas and different facets of the moving economic system has value. I know there was a headline earlier in camp that said, ‘Clark thinks draft lottery may make sense.’ I don’t remember saying that, but that’s OK. What I have said and what I will continue to say is that having a dialogue that affords flexibility, opportunity, access, a system that is reflective of the value itself that’s being accessed, all of that, should be a part of the conversation.”

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