FORT MYERS, Fla. – Leaders of the Major League Baseball Players Association met with Red Sox players and coaches in a meeting that lasted approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes on Tuesday morning. While the MLBPA visit was part of the association’s visit with all 30 teams during spring training, the context for the visit with the Red Sox was slightly different than the one hovering over other teams.
After all, Major League Baseball is expected to issue its findings (and potentially penalties) within days after its nearly two-month investigation into whether the 2018 Red Sox violated MLB rules by using a live video replay feed to steal sign sequences from opposing teams. Much of the conversation between MLBPA officials and members of the Red Sox thus focused on questions related to sign-stealing and the investigation.
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the league has finished its interviews, leaving everyone to await MLB’s findings and verdict.
“The latest we have is simply that no decision has been made yet. We will wait to hear from the league as to when that decision may be made,’’ said Clark. “As of right now, we understand that the interviews that they were going to have and did have as well as the information they were gathering from beyond the player interviews has all happened. Now we’re just waiting for the decision itself.’’
While manager Ron Roenicke said on Tuesday morning that the Red Sox look forward to having the investigation behind the team, Clark suggested that the team’s players have accepted the nature of the deliberate investigation.
“I think they understand the process,’’ said Clark. “Obviously everybody is looking forward to the 2020 season and would like to put this behind them.’’
While the outcome of the investigation remains in question, Clark said that players are clearly interested in the question of fairness moving forward. As such, he expects new regulations regarding sign-stealing and the in-game use of technology by Opening Day – and he said that the players and the MLBPA are open in the future to punishing players who violate such rules. (Both Astros and Red Sox players were granted immunity in MLB’s investigations into their sign-stealing practices.)
Clark also touched on several other topics. Among them:
■ He questioned the Red Sox’ rationale for trading Mookie Betts.
“Boston made whatever decision they made for whatever reason they made it. I think that a face of our game, someone that should be more a face of our game, being put in that position, I don’t think it was necessary,’’ said Clark. “I know they’ve offered some commentary publicly, but you’d have to ask Boston as to why that’s the case. We simply believe that Mookie is a generational talent. And the idea that he is no longer here is one that we just didn’t believe was necessary.’’
■ Clark believes that teams are treating the luxury tax threshold ($208 million in 2020) – and the priority placed on bringing their payrolls under it, as an “excuse’’ to cap payroll in the eyes of Clark – in a way that wasn’t anticipated when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement was negotiated, and vowed that there would be changes to the luxury tax before the next agreement.
“We think there are a number of aspects in our CBA that need to be addressed. If the competitive balance tax is being used in the fashion that it’s being used and the excuse that it’s being used for, then it’s something we’re going to look at,’’ said Clark. “The assumptions that we made [in negotiating the current CBA] were predicated on what it was that teams had been doing in the past. What we’ve seen, though, is a dramatic change and shift in how those teams are functioning against the backdrop of how they may have functioned five or ten years ago. As a result, we’re going to need to modernize the system to reflect the changes that we’re seeing.’’
■ Clark suggested that the erupting sign-stealing scandal is not taking place in a vacuum. Instead, he believes that it’s an outgrowth of an industry that is awash in technology and the hunt for inefficiencies and competitive advantage but hasn’t taken the time to think through all of the implications of rapid change.
“We believe [the sign-stealing is] a product of the culture, top down, in a number of organizations. I’ve said that, and I will continue to say that, despite what it is that was in the opinion – while recognizing that nobody is looking to suggest that players weren’t a part of the process,’’ said Clark. “The culture that exists is one that, with technology being left unchecked, is manifesting itself on and off the field in ways that aren’t beneficial to the game.’’
■ While MLB and the MLBPA opened the door to a reconsideration of the game’s economic foundation a year ago – a rare offer in the middle of a Collective Bargaining Agreement – Clark said that there “was dialogue, [but] not much in the way of progress’’ from those conversations.
“The lines of communication are still open,’’ he added.