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Union chief’s rebuke of GM heats up baseball’s cold war over free agency

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In his public statements about the evolution of the free-agent market, Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, has taken pains not to use the word “collusion.” For more than two years now, the MLBPA has asked agents to take notes on the free-agent conversations they have with teams so it can search for patterns, smoking guns, anything that might hint at coordination among the 30 teams. Nothing actionable has been found.

It made the tone of a release issued Wednesday by the union that much more startling. Clark all but accused teams of colluding based on the words of Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who in a conference call Tuesday with reporters had alluded to conversations with other teams about free agency and how it would affect trade discussions.

Clark’s words were unsparing. Amid announcing that the union would investigate teams potentially running afoul of the collective bargaining agreement, Clark said Anthopoulos “call[ed] into question the integrity of the entire free-agent system. The clear description of club coordination is egregious.”

The notion of teams discussing free agents, if only in passing, does ring true. “Are we supposed to talk about only trades?” one general manager asked Wednesday. “And do they want us to talk trades with no other context?” The union’s answer, at least according to its statement, is: yes. Because anything beyond that, the argument goes, would violate Article XX(E)(1) of the collective bargaining agreement, which ends: “Players shall not act in concern with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs.”

It was a bold attack by the union, one that drew huzzahs from some players who believe the league is colluding and eye-rolls from others who saw it as little more than grandstanding. Whatever the motivation, it was a shot across the bow from Clark on the third day of free agency. With another offseason expected to mirror the past two winters — slow, dreary, disappointing for players — Clark has made his style clear. He is going to fight.

This particular skirmish could take months, maybe more, to play out. The union’s next step as part of its investigation will be to request information from the league. The questions it will ask to determine coordination among teams and how MLB will respond to the request are key. If the league doesn’t cooperate, the union could file a grievance to gather information. If the league does cooperate and the union finds actions it believes constitute a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, the MLBPA could file a grieving alleging collusion.

Further, it could look to Article XX(E)(5), which states that if an arbitration panel finds five or more teams violated XX(E)(1) about acting in concert with other teams, the MLBPA can reopen the collective bargaining agreement after giving MLB 60 days’ notice.

All of that, of course, depends upon the union finding something it hasn’t found in years of searching. Collusion is not impossible to prove, as the MLBPA showed three times in the 1980s. The most recent collusion case concerned a so-called “information bank,” which the league created to share offers teams were making to players. It was the epitome of clear and egregious, and the league paid players $280 million in damages.

This case, at least at the start, is far more opaque. It’s fairest to look at what Anthopoulos said in the context of his entire quote, which he gave to reporters on a conference call after the Braves re-signed Tyler Flowers and Nick Markakis, and which The Athletic printed in full.

“We always take up until the last day because things occur — trade scenarios, signings,” Anthopoulos said. “And look, we’re still obviously at the beginning of the offseason. We’ve got to make decisions on these players at this time because the language in their contracts dictated that we had to make those decisions today. But we know the landscape can change quite a bit between now and spring training. We examined the free-agent market. We’ve definitely done a pretty good analysis now that the World Series is over. We could at least have general conversations with agents, just in terms of expressing interest.

“Every day you get more information. And we’ve had time to connect with 27 of the clubs — obviously the Astros and (Nationals) being in the World Series, they were tied up — but we had a chance to get a sense of what the other clubs are going to look to do in free agency, who might be available in trades. So, the three weeks have been productive for us, just getting more information. All that shaped some of the decisions that we made. But we know there’s going to be a lot more information to come, and things are certainly going to develop over the next few months, and there will be a chain reaction with certain signings — someone signs in a certain place, maybe another player that’s not available today becomes available at that time. So, it’s going to be pretty fluid, and I think we’re in a good position to start the offseason.”

The union took umbrage at the Braves having a “sense of what other clubs are going to look to do in free agency.” By Wednesday night, Anthopoulos had walked back his words, saying he misspoke, didn’t discuss free agents or the free agent market, and that he apologized for the confusion.

It did not take Anthopoulos saying it out loud for the union, or anyone else in the industry, to know these sorts of conversations happen. They happened in 2015, before the current agreement. They happened in 2010. They happened in 2000. They have happened every year of the current quarter-century of labor peace. Before the offseason kicks into gear, one team calls another. They ask what they’re looking for. They kick possibilities back and forth. They try to contextualize what is what. They say if they can’t fill a position via trade, they may go out and get a free agent.

One executive argues that scenario constitutes information gathering — something paramount in baseball today, when a minuscule knowledge advantage can be worth tens of millions. It’s not an information bank, he said. It’s certainly not working together, he said. It’s trying to understand the lay of the land to beat them. It’s pragmatism.

Now, nothing says pragmatism and collusion can’t be bedfellows — and the burden is on the union to prove that what came off as relatively innocent from Anthopoulos is something more. But if the union is determined to be dogmatic about free agency — and there is nothing more precious to it than free agency — then this case will persist and cleave the relationship between the parties even more.

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2020 Leaderboards – ESPN

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2020 Leaderboards – ESPN

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A Los Golpes ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Cronmetro ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 El diario de Martn ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 Es as y punto con Hernn Pereyra ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 ESPN Radio Frmula ESPN Radio Mar 27, 2020 Ftbol Picante ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Jorge Ramos y Su Banda ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 La Butaca ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 Los Capitanes ESPN Radio Mar 27, 2020 NFL Live ESPN Radio Mar 27, 2020 Nos ponemos las pilas con Fernando Palomo ESPN Radio May 19, 2020 Raza Deportiva ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 30 For 30 Podcasts ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 ESPORTS ESPN Radio May 22, 2020 FiveThirtyEight Politics ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Around The Rim ESPN Radio May 4, 2020 Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 SC Featured ESPN Radio Mar 25, 2020 The Jump ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 The Bill Barnwell Show ESPN Radio May 20, 2020 Matty & The Caddie ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 College Football Live ESPN Radio May 19, 2020 espnW presents Be Honest with Cari Champion ESPN Radio Mar 25, 2020 ESPN Media Conference Calls ESPN Radio Apr 20, 2020 The Right Time with Bomani Jones ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Mornings with Keyshawn, LZ and Travis ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 First Draft ESPN Radio Apr 29, 2020 The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Freddie and Fitzsimmons ESPN Radio Mar 12, 2020 NFL Live ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 98.7 ESPN New York: Dave Rothenberg ESPN Radio May 30, 2020 DiPietro, Canty & Rothenberg ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Caught Offside ESPN Radio May 26, 2020 ESPN FC ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Best of ESPNLA ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Jalen & Jacoby ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 The Lowe Post ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Cheap Heat with Peter Rosenberg ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Spain and Company ESPN Radio Mar 25, 2020 The Paul Finebaum Show ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Marty and McGee ESPN Radio Mar 25, 2020 Around the Horn ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Behind the Bets with Doug Kezirian ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Golic and Wingo ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Highly Questionable ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Outside The Lines ESPN Radio Mar 23, 2020 Courtside with Greenberg & Dakich ESPN Radio May 26, 2020 Fantasy Focus Baseball ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Fantasy Focus Football ESPN Radio May 19, 2020 First Take ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 The Mina Kimes Show featuring Lenny ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 ESPN Podcasts ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 ESPN On Ice with Wyshynski and Kaplan ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 In The Gate ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 PTI ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 The Will Cain Show ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Caught Offside ESPN New York May 26, 2020 The Michael Kay Show ESPN New York May 29, 2020 98.7 ESPN New York: Dave Rothenberg ESPN New York May 30, 2020 DiPietro, Canty & Rothenberg ESPN New York Jun 1, 2020 Best of ESPN New York ESPN New York Jun 1, 2020 Mason & Ireland ESPN Los Angeles May 29, 2020 The Sedano Show ESPN Los Angeles May 29, 2020 Weekend Warrior ESPN Los Angeles May 30, 2020 Best of ESPNLA ESPN Los Angeles May 29, 2020

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Nationals reverse course, restore minor league pay after Sean Doolittle’s pledge

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WASHINGTON — The Nationals changed course and told their minor leaguers on Monday they will receive their full weekly stipends of $400 at least through June after Washington reliever Sean Doolittle tweeted that the team’s major league players would cover a planned cut in those payments.

Doolittle wrote on Twitter that Nationals major leaguers held a video conference call after The Athletic reported Sunday the club would be releasing more than two dozen minor league players and reducing stipends for players in the minors from $400 to $300 per week.

A text message sent by the Nationals to players in the minors and forwarded Monday to The Associated Press reads: “Upon further internal discussion, you will receive your full stipend of $400 per week through the month of June. We will consider future payments on a month to month basis. Thank you!”

It’s not unusual for big league teams to release minor leaguers at this time of year, although not normally this many. More than 400 young players have been cut with the minor league season in doubt amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Athletic reported that 40 players were cut by the Nationals.

Minor league players not on 40-man rosters were promised $400 per week through Sunday by a policy drafted by MLB. Including Washington’s switch, now at least 16 teams have promised to extend those allowances through the end of this month.

After the report about Washington’s reduction in that stipend, Doolittle wrote Sunday night that Nationals major leaguers decided unanimously that they “will be coming together and committing funds to make whole the lost wages.”

“All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times,” Doolittle wrote. “Minor leaguers are an essential part of our organization and they are bearing the heaviest burden of this situation as their season is likely to be cancelled.”

Doolittle isn’t the only major leaguer to pledge support for minor leaguers. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price plans to give each minor leaguer not on the 40-man roster in that franchise’s system $1,000 for the month of June, sources told ESPN, confirming a report by Francys Romero. The Dodgers had already committed to paying their minor leaguers $400-per-week stipends through the end of June.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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