More barbs are flying these days than dollars.
MLB engaged both top agent Scott Boras and union head Tony Clark in a war of words on Tuesday. Clark put out a statement accusing teams of tanking and hurting the integrity of the game. The league shot back with a statement that drew a response from Boras. Top league lawyer Dan Halem, via FanRag Sports, also joined the fray.
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That's not all. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported that free agent J.D. Martinez "is fed up with the Red Sox' inflexibility," per sources, and that Martinez would rather go elsewhere.
There's still dialogue, apparently, even if Martinez is unhappy.
Boras, who represents Martinez, told NBC Sports Boston on Tuesday night that the Red Sox remain in active negotiations with the slugger. Boras made clear too that he and Martinez are willing to begin spring training without a contract.
“The dialogue is ongoing, we have not reached any kind of agreement,” Boras said. “Particularly for position players, these guys are in great shape, they’re ready to go. I realize the traditional timetables are not relevant in today’s free agency, due to the fact that we have the disruption of major league franchises by tanking, and a sale to a [group in Miami] that is more interested in paying off their debt service rather than competing. You have major interruptions where you have … major stars flooded into the trade market.
“The market just began.”
Boras, famous for his metaphors and large contracts, described the offseason as a boat race.
“The offseason regatta, the offseason cup,” Boras said. “The boat took a grand detour to Japan [with Shohei Otani]. That took everybody three weeks, two to three weeks. And then it took another — then they got to Florida coming back from Japan and what did they find? A shipwrecked franchise."
The Marlins sold, well, everything, from Giancarlo Stanton to Christian Yelich.
"One of the boats is down, its cargo’s in the ocean, go get it," Boras said. "You know how much investment teams put in trying to get all those players?
“And so then you go in, you’re near the free agent docks, more teams dump. Tampa, Pittsburgh, then finally they get to the docks and it’s what, two months late? So now they finally realize there’s no more trades and the free agents are starting to move a little bit because teams are done.”
Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski on Tuesday told Rosenthal that he’ll “just continue to be patient and see where it takes us.”
If the Red Sox don’t land Martinez or an equivalent bat — and there isn’t an equivalent bat on the open market, that would have to come via trade — Dombrowski is taking a huge gamble. If the Sox can improve with essentially an identical team to last year minus reliever Addison Reed (who left via free agency), then Dombrowski will look great. But he’ll face deserved skepticism if the 2018 Red Sox look identical to the 2017 Red Sox on paper, and could only shed that skepticism if his gamble paid off.
The more top-shelf players that begin spring training or even the season without a contract, the more pressure mounts on both sides.
“Our clubs are committed to putting a winning product on the field for their fans," MLB said in a statement on Tuesday. "Owners own teams for one reason: they want to win. In baseball, it has always been true that clubs go through cyclical, multi-year strategies directed at winning.
“It is common at this point in the calendar to have large numbers of free agents unsigned. What is uncommon is to have some of the best free agents sitting unsigned even though they have substantial offers, some in nine figures. It is the responsibility of players’ agents to value their clients in a constantly changing free agent market based on factors such as positional demand, advanced analytics, and the impact of the new Basic Agreement. To lay responsibility on the Clubs for the failure of some agents to accurately assess the market is unfair, unwarranted, and inflammatory.”
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Management, particularly in a city like Boston, would face a hard sell: how can it be that the best product is on the field if some of the best talent remains available and the team unchanged?
Boras said the league's reference to "substantial offers, some in nine figures" was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement.