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A Different Form of Collusion in MLB? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Thursday, 14 January 2010 01:39

Maury BrownWith Commissioner Selig holding a meeting with 28 of the 30 general managers and the 30 owners in Major League Baseball on Weds., the first day of baseball’s quarterly owners’ meetings, Selig described the gathering as “historic”. As Barry Bloom of MLB.com reported:

Though Selig and GMs who were approached declined to publicly comment on specifics of the meeting, one person who was in the room said that a great portion of the discussion with the Commissioner dwelled exclusively on the First-Year Player Draft and how changes could be made for it to be more effective.

The report continues to mention that a hard slotting system for the top picks in the Draft were discussed, as well as an International Draft, the latter of the two collectively bargained issues has been said to be acceptable to the MLBPA, at this time.

But, with the filing deadline for salary arbitration looming on Friday, one possible topic amongst the GMs and owners might be how clubs planned to file figures for those players that do not settle on contracts ahead of the January 19th date when players and clubs begin exchanging asking and offering figures.

The idea that GMs would huddle together and exchange information on where they plan to file would seem to skirt near collusion. But, according to a former AL and NL executive, it is not a rare practice.

“Ahead of the date salary arbitration figures are exchanged, it is not uncommon to hold conference calls with other clubs, or meet in person to discuss what type of offering figure they might be filing on a player with comparable service time to one or more of our players,” said the former executive.

While it was said that the practice was not collusion, the reasoning for knowing what other clubs are filing keeps everyone from jumping ranks. Much like the recommended slotting system for the Draft, once one club offers a salary higher than what is considered average for a particular player, based on his stats and service time compared to other similar players, it can create a domino effect across other clubs, thereby skewing the market in that year’s salary arbitration class, or in future years when “look backs” are done – a part of the salary arbitration process that allows comparing players back 1-2 years and comparing a player or players that had service time in the same range as a comparable player now.

With salary arbitration being almost exclusively a win for the players (last year saw an increase if 143 percent for the salary arbitration class of 2009 compared to 2008), discussing how to set the market for asking figures would be exceptionally valuable.

And while there is no word as to whether the topic of salary arbitration occurred with the GMs and owners sitting together in Paradise Valley, AZ on Weds., the topic must surely be broached at some point, possibly as part of discussions at the GM meetings.

The question then becomes, does the MLBPA set up meetings with agents to discuss what players in the process are filing? Over the course of the last few years, sources have said that the PA has spent a good deal of time providing oversight and advice as newer agents not versed in the process of salary arbitration have filed asking figures below what they could. Much like owners filing figures too high, agents filing figures too low can skew the market for the salary arbitration players.

As the salary arbitration plays out, the key focus is not just what the player asks, nor what the club offers, but the mid-point in-between the two figures. From Jan. 19 and on till the process ends with any salary arbitration hearings between Feb. 1- 21st, pay close attention to that mid-point. The Biz of Baseball will be reporting on every deal, the player’s 2009 salary, the offering and asking figures, and yes… the mid-point between them.

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Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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