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Growing rift between baseball players and owners a threat to labor peace

It’s late January and superstar Bryce Harper is still available on the free agent market. Nick Wass/AP

A few issues to think about as we move closer to spring training:

The rift between team owners and players is growing wider by the day as big-name free agents remain unsigned in late January. Both sides are on a collision course toward a major blowup and threat to future labor peace.

Will the Players Association take major action to protest what it feels is unfair labor practices by the owners? There already are some discussions on the player side on things they could do to get the owners’ attention. One suggestion was a spring training boycott.

It took until Jan. 24 for a positional player to receive a four-year deal — that going to center fielder A.J. Pollock, who signed a four-year, $60 million contract with a fifth-year option with the Dodgers. The Nationals signed lefthander Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal; the Red Sox signed Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $68 million deal in November; and the Mariners signed Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi to a four-year, $56 million deal in December.

The two biggest names in free agency, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, remain unsigned. The Nationals reportedly offered Harper a 10-year, $330 million deal that was rejected. Machado was reportedly offered a seven-year, $175 million deal by the White Sox, though those reports have been knocked down by his agent, Dan Lozano.


What many owners have come to find is the level of production of the younger player is far greater of that of the older players, so those deals for players 30 and older are starting to dry up. The owners will argue that they have finally woken up to that fact. Older players are getting shut out or offered one-year deals.

Imagine if the Red Sox didn’t have 35-year-old Steve Pearce. Would they have won the World Series? Older players bring clubhouse chemistry. They act as leaders and de facto coaches. They bring all of the intangible things that younger players can’t offer until they’ve gained a little wisdom and experience. They offer things that analytic models can’t always calculate.


It’s ridiculous that Adam Jones is not yet signed by a team needing leadership. And there are plenty of those.

Red Sox chairman Tom Werner told Globe colleague Peter Abraham this past week, “Owners aren’t hoarding money. Player compensation is 54 percent of revenues, which is higher than the NBA, NHL, and NFL. There were 45 players last season who made $20 million or more. That’s quite a significant number. But we’re spending money in what I would consider a more sensible fashion.”

Teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees aren’t the problem. But there seems to be more teams tanking than ever. If baseball is a $10 billion business, why are so many teams on an austerity program? We see scouting staffs shrinking, and nickel-and-diming of staffs on small-market teams.

Related: ‘Owners aren’t hoarding money’: Tom Werner defends baseball owners’ spending on free agents

The Red Sox could still use a reliever to replace Joe Kelly, who signed with the Dodgers in December.Jae C. Hong/AP

■  The Red Sox seem to be in no hurry to sign a reliever. Missing Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly, you would think there’d be more urgency to get a significant reliever or two on board. Maybe the Sox are looking at Kimbrel returning on a one-year deal, but one would think he would get at the very least a three-year deal somewhere.


Relievers Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, and Brad Brach have signed elsewhere. Each could have helped. There are still plenty of bullpen arms left, but obviously the quality declines. Dave Dombrowski may feel he has enough in the bullpen, or he may believe he can trade for a reliever by offering up Blake Swihart or Michael Chavis if Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier can’t do the job as closer or setup man.

It appears the Red Sox have one more year to go for it. Do we really think they’ll be able to re-sign all of the players whose contracts are up for renewal over the next two years? Their payroll would get to $300 million and we’re not sure Red Sox ownership is interested in that type of outlay. Leaving yourself short in the pen this season has its risks. Proceed with caution.

■  Could the Phillies wind up with both Machado and Harper? Or would they hold back on signing both so they can put themselves in position to sign Mike Trout when he becomes a free agent after 2020? Some people in baseball think the Phillies could sign both superstars, sign Kimbrel and starter Dallas Keuchel, and still have a few bucks left for someone else. Not sure all of that is possible, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone.

The Phillies have allowed the market to play out for all of the big-name players in hopes they won’t pay top dollar for any of them. But they’re certainly willing to do so if need be.


■  When you ask the game’s general hierarchy which team has won the offseason, a common answer is the Yankees. And with good reason. They have solidified their rotation with J.A. Happ and James Paxton; improved their bullpen with Adam Ottavino and Britton; and their lineup with infielder DJ LeMahieu, who won the NL batting title two years ago. And they may not be done. After trading Sonny Gray to the Reds, there’s a possibility the Yankees could pick off one of the remaining free agent starters.

It likely won’t be Keuchel, but are Gio Gonzalez or Ervin Santana possibilities for that fifth spot? Certainly the spot is being reserved for CC Sabathia, but it would be risky for the Yankees to go into the season relying on Sabathia, who had a stent inserted during a heart operation in December.

The Yankees hate finishing behind the Red Sox in the standings and getting beaten by them in the ALDS. The Yankees won 100 games and left the tournament too soon, so they are trying to close the gap with the Red Sox. They’re hoping for bigger contributions from Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton and hope that oft-injured Jacoby Ellsbury can return to form.

■  One of the more fascinating story lines is whether the Marlins will deal catcher J.T. Realmuto. He’s been talked a lot about this offseason, and usually it is pointed out that the Marlins’ trade demands have been unrealistic. While there have been reports of a Marlins-Dodgers deal heating up, the problem has been the Marlins’ insistence on a major leaguer being involved in any deal for Realmuto.


Major league sources indicate that the Marlins have asked for Cody Bellinger and two or three of the Dodgers’ top prospects, including Keibert Ruiz, 20, who is probably the best catching prospect in baseball. There’s no way the Dodgers part with Bellinger. They would likely try to steer the Marlins toward Joc Pederson.

Realmuto is really good, but he’s not Johnny Bench or Ivan Rodriguez. When the Marlins were talking about a deal with the Braves, they insisted on second baseman Ozzie Albies in the return package, and that wasn’t going to happen. The Dodgers have lost in the World Series two straight years and Realmuto is the most dynamic catcher in the game in terms of all-around ability. If the Dodgers start with Ruiz and keep this strictly a prospect deal, this trade could get done.

But as long as the Marlins insist on top major league talent from teams that are expecting to contend for a World Series, the deals are going to get stalled.

Apropos of nothing

Roger Clemens received 59.5 percent of the vote in the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame election.Ed Zurga/AP

1. This is how much veteran scout Bob Johnson wants to get back into baseball: “I’ll work for expenses. I don’t even need to make a salary.” Johnson was one of the best advance scouts in the business, unemployed now for two years.

2. A lot of people are asking whether Roger Clemens will ever get into the Hall of Fame after receiving slightly less than 60 percent of the vote this year. With three years of eligibility remaining, it’s going to be close. Working for him is that Derek Jeter will be the only obvious player to go in next year. For the two remaining years of Clemens’s eligibility, there won’t be an obvious first-timer, which tends to help candidates on that fault line.

Also helping will be older voters dropping off and first-time voters coming in. First-time voters must complete 10 consecutive years of baseball writing before being eligible. Older voters drop off 10 years after they’ve retired. Older voters tend to vote against those players accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, while newer voters tend to vote for them.

3. One interesting defense of Clemens’s alleged steroid use came from reader James A. Nollet. He mentioned how Curt Schilling indicated that if the accused felt so strongly of their innocence they would sue. Nollet harkens back to the suit Clemens filed against former trainer Brian McNamee — who said in the Mitchell Report that he provided Clemens steroids — for defamation of character. Clemens was also cleared of perjury charges.

Writes Nollet, “Before the defendant files his inevitable Motion for Summary Judgment, the case goes through several stages. A) The plaintiff serves his complaint on the defendant and on the court; B) the defendant answers the complaint. Basically, the defendant goes through each and every point the plaintiff raised and denies each and every one individually. This is not Perjury. To deny that something happened is not the same thing as saying it didn’t happen. All it means is, I refuse to agree that it did; C) Then the plaintiff and defendant exchange Discovery. Among other things, Discovery means interrogatories. These are a series of questions that both parties must answer under oath, which he answered that Clemens received a set of Interrogatories, which he answered under penalties of perjury, and that among the questions are questions in which he had to deny under oath that he had ever used. Only after Discovery is exchanged does the Motion for Summary Judgment proceed. In short, Clemens met the Great Curt Schilling Challenge. He answered his accuser by suing him, which exposed him to accusations of perjury in the event he lied during the process.”

4. All of the time-saving ideas for improving pace of play are negated by time spent on instant replay. Get rid of it. I enjoyed the days when umpires actually made mistakes, and when managers would come out of the dugout to perform a colorful and entertainin argument, as Billy Martin and Earl Weaver once did. The technological advancements have made the game more boring.

5. Nashville-based director/filmmaker Molly Secours is directing a documentary called “Scouting For Diamonds,” which is characterized as a love story about scouts and baseball. Secours has been working on this for five years, but the narrative keeps changing as scouts find their numbers diminishing in favor of analytics. Actor/comedian Bill Murray is the co-producer along with Wade Boggs. Willie Mays, George Brett, Billy Beane, Dennis Gilbert, among many others, are involved in the film.

Updates on nine

Adrian Gonzalez, seen in a 2018 spring training game with the Mets, held a workout for teams last week. The Diamondbacks have significant interest in Gonzalez.John Bazemore/AP/File

1. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, free agent — As we wrote last week in this space, Gonzalez held a workout at Los Angeles Valley College. One of the more interested teams are the Diamondbacks, who traded Paul Goldschmidt. Gonzalez was in Boston when Arizona general manager Mike Hazen was the team’s farm director, so Hazen is quite familiar with Gonzalez. That could be the best bet for the 36-year-old.

2. Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Giants — The Giants did a good job identifying Pomeranz as a back-end starter candidate for $1.5 million with incentives that could bring the deal to $6 million. He had a miserable year with the Red Sox last season, suffering from a few nagging injuries. When healthy, and given that he’ll be in the more pitching-friendly National League, Pomeranz could rebound to close to the 17-game winner he was two years ago. Pomeranz also lives in downtown San Francisco, so it’s a nice homecoming.

3. Aaron Sele, scout, Cubs — We wrote about the former Red Sox righthander in this space last week after he left the Marlins organization when his situation became untenable. Sele was scooped up shortly thereafter by the Cubs to scout pitching. We’ve written a lot about Derek Jeter’s Marlins in this space. It’s just astounding that such a classy player who played his entire career with a classy organization such as the Yankees would take such a different approach with the organization he now runs. Owner Bruce Sherman can’t possibly endorse this.

4. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, free agent — When Papelbon left baseball at age 35 after the 2016 season, we expected him to mount a comeback at some point. It never happened. Papelbon has remained retired with 368 career saves and a 2.44 ERA.

5. Tim Neverett, broadcaster, Dodgers — Neverett will do more than 100 games between Dodgers TV and radio this year. Terrific guy and broadcaster, the former WEEI radio voice of the Red Sox quit after last season. He’ll work with Rick Monday on radio, Orel Hershiser on TV. Neverett will fill in for Charley Steiner on radio games after Steiner reduced his schedule.

6. Carlos Carrasco, RHP, Indians — Is the reason the Indians have shopped Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer more because in his new deal Carrasco will earn $3 million if he’s traded before the end of 2019, and just $1 million after it? A plausible theory.

7. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Colleyville (Texas) Heritage High School — What will the Orioles do with the first pick in the June draft? Witt is a popular choice for first overall pick, but the Orioles are reportedly tempted by Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman. Witt seems to fit a more long-range plan, but Rutschman could make a quicker impact if the Orioles need someone to start the rebuilding process quickly. The consensus is you can’t go wrong with either. Witt is the son of former major league righthander Bobby Witt, who was raised in Canton. He is currently a baseball agent with the Octagon group.

8. Adam Ottavino, RHP, Yankees — I’ve always been intrigued by decorum in sports. And one of the neatest traditions is the Yankees not allowing facial hair. What they will allow is the newly acquired Ottavino to wear the first-ever jersey No. 0 in franchise history.

9. Mike Mussina, RHP, retired — Interesting that neither newly elected Hall of Famers Mussina or Roy Halladay will have a cap representing one of the teams for which they played. Brandy Halladay, the widow of the late righthander, and Mussina both said that a team logo will not appear on the caps. Mussina pitched for the Orioles and Yankees and felt it would be a slight to both organizations if he chose one over the other. Ditto Brandy Halladay, whose husband played for Toronto and Philadelphia.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files — “They never pitched together, but they each pitched for the Orioles: Jim Palmer, 268-152, (.638) and Mike Mussina, 270-153, (.638), and now they are together in the Hall of Fame.” . . . Also, “In Cody Bellinger’s first 294 career games with the Dodgers, he has a .263 batting average. In pitcher Don Newcombe’s first 294 career games with the Dodgers, he had a .263 batting average. And Cody’s manager, Dave Roberts, played his first 219 career games with the Dodgers and Bobby Valentine played his first 225 games with the Dodgers, and they each had a .263 batting average.” . . . Happy birthday, Ken Huckaby (48), Phil Plantier (50), and Eric Wedge (51).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.