When news arrived yesterday that the MLBPA had filed a grievance claiming that MLB had unilaterally extended the August 15, 2008 signing deadline for drafted players, it should have come as no surprise that Frank Coonelly, President of the Pittsburgh Pirates and super-agent Scott Boras would be in the mix.
Wednesday started with the Pirates placing Pedro Alvarez on the restricted list after he refused to sign his contract negotiated on August 15 – the day of the trade deadline. Alvarez and Boras, it seems, want to renegotiate the deal in the hopes of getting a signing bonus above the $6 million it is now.
In placing Alvarez on the Restricted List, no team is allowed to sign the top prospect.
The situation has played out in the public eye when Coonelly released a statement to fans yesterday through email.
“While demanding that we renegotiate his contract and pay Pedro more than the $6 million signing bonus to which Pedro agreed, Mr. Boras has contended that the contract we reached with Pedro was consummated after the August 15 deadline,” Coonelly said in the release. “This claim was not raised on the evening of the 15th when we informed Mr. Boras that Major League Baseball had confirmed that the contract was submitted in a timely fashion. Mr. Boras asserted this claim several days later, after all of the draft signings had become publicized.”
Boras responded in a phone call to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, "The Pirates violated Major League Baseball rules and have issued a nearly 600-word statement, made their actions look to be my fault. I think it's time for the Pirates and Mr. Coonelly to come clean with the fans of Pittsburgh and let everyone know about their dealings with Mr. Alvarez."
The situation outlines the ongoing relationship between Coonelly and Boras.
Coonelly has been Boras’ foil; the former senior vice-president of MLB and chief labor negotiator, he also was the architect of MLB’s suggested slotting system for draft pick signing bonuses. In the past, Boras has taken several GMs to the mat signing deals for draft picks that one long-time baseball executive said to me were, “Highly exorbitant. Just very bad deals.”
While MLB would never admit to it, Coonelly’s slotting system was designed chiefly to target Boras.
And, it’s not as if draft signings were the only place where Coonelly and Boras have sat across the table from each other. On more than one occasion, the two were before salary arbitration panels making their cases.
The difference this time around? The MLBPA is in the mix.
While the slotting system has raised whispers of collusion, the PA is claiming that the Commissioner’s Office broke part of the CBA by allowing clubs to negotiate signings past the August 15 deadline. In a release later Wednesday, Major League Baseball Players Association General Counsel, Michael Weiner said in part, "In the 2006 round of collective bargaining, the Players Association agreed to establish an August 15 signing deadline for drafted players with remaining collegiate eligibility. The firm deadline was a Club bargaining demand, and agreement on it was part of a broader set of compromises by the parties related to the reserve system and the draft.
"Within hours after this year's August 15 midnight deadline passed, the Players Association learned from several sources that the Commissioner's Office had extended the deadline for negotiating and reporting signings with drafted players. This was done without notice to or consultation with the Players Association, despite a firm deadline having been established through collective bargaining.”
The statement then went on to say,” The grievance was not filed on behalf of any particular player,” although Coonelly was certainly mentioned at the end.
Weiner adds, “I have read the statement issued by Frank Coonelly, President of the Pittsburgh Pirates, regarding Pedro Alvarez. Frank's statement also refers to the contract between Eric Hosmer and the Kansas City Royals. The Association, after further investigation and the processing of the Grievance, will determine what relief it will seek from the Arbitration Panel, including whether it will seek relief related to agreements accepted by the Commissioner's Office after the collectively bargained signing deadline.
"Moreover, based on information gathered to date by the Association, Frank's statement is inaccurate in a number of respects. While the Association will not respond specifically through the press, we are confident that, at hearing, the Panel will agree that the Commissioner's Office acted improperly when it unilaterally changed the terms of the deal it struck with the Association in 2006."
Some may question why the MLBPA hasn’t been involved more aggressively in the matter of the slotting system – the catalyst for Boras’ attempt to renegotiate the Alvarez deal, thus challenging the Pirates intent to stick to the bonus offer, and get the #2 draft pick in uniform.
Although the PA has not said as much, the slotting system, in some odd way, works to their advantage. By keeping signing bonuses down, it should, in principle, free up money that can then be applied to player salaries for those already in the union, not draft picks.
The problem with yesterday’s situation was that it involves breaking a negotiated part of the CBA, the trade deadline.
How has MLB responded to the MLBPA's grievance? Pat Courtney, VP of communications for MLB, put out the following release: "We believe the grievance is entirely without merit. The deadline was extended to accept minor league contracts voluntarily entered into by the clubs and the players with the help of their agents. It is settled law that the arbitration panel has no authority to disturb such minor league contracts."
Add this... One could certainly surmise that having Coonelly and Boras in the mix certainly threw gas on the fire.