MLB Player Hints Owners Have Colluded This Offseason

Los Angeles Dodger Kiké Hernández made the not-so-veiled assertion

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Maybe the slow-moving free agency market wasn't Scott Boras's fault after all.
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Maybe the slow-moving MLB free agent market this offseason wasn’t super agent Scott Boras’s fault all along. Much had been written about the “Boras Four” holdouts: starting pitchers Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, third baseman Matt Chapman and centerfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger. Under the guidance of Boras, they all refused to sign on any dotted lines well into the winter, until Bellinger finally agreed to a three-year pact with the Chicago Cubs this past week. Spring training camps started in the middle of last month, but the other three are still available to any team owner, as are a number of other above-replacement-level players, including designated hitter J.D. Martinez, outfielder Tommy Pham and infielder Elvis Andrus. Some of those players are expected to earn contracts eventually but have to wait until the now Boras Three are signed and the market for them becomes more clear.

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But Los Angeles Dodgers utility player Kiké Hernández doesn’t appear to blame the players or their agents for taking so long to come to terms with a team, even as time windows of preparation for regular season games continues to close. He seems to believe MLB’s franchise front men are conspiring against them in an effort to keep player earnings as low as possible.

Hernández, who was a free agent himself until he signed with the Dodgers on Monday, has openly discussed his displeasure with the pace of the market on multiple occasions. He recently appeared on the YouTube program, “Foul Territory” and, per The Athletic, said, “I’m not going to say the C-word, but I think the C-word needs a capital C.” The Athletic wrote it was “a not-so-veiled allegation that major-league owners are colluding to suppress player markets.”

Hernández added on the show that, while he was a free agent, teams seemed to reach out to him at about the same time in bunches. “The numbers were pretty much the same throughout,” he said, referencing contract proposals. “I think the teams that are using these computer systems to project numbers, project salaries, they’re all using the same one and I think they all have the same password. So that’s how free agency is going, and it’s not just me.”

Then, on-site at a spring training facility yesterday, Hernández further expressed his frustration over feeling forced to sign weeks into camp. “I mean, it’s been terrible,” he said. “There’s still a lot of really good quality baseball players, big leaguers that are more than capable of being everyday guys on a lot of teams, and the fact that they’re still out there, it’s a shame. It seems like a lot of the owners had an excuse in terms of the TV deal and things like that. It was a very weird offseason and it still is for some guys. It doesn’t seem like things are picking up either for some of those guys, which is shameful.”

The Athletic reached out to MLB for comment, but was unable to secure one. Team owner collusion is not permitted and, as The Athletic noted, “difficult to prove.” However, the owners have taken such action against the players before, in the mid-1980s and early 2000s. In both instances, the owners later paid out damages to the players.

It has to be said that Hernández’s team agreed to pay two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani the most amount of money any MLB player has ever received this past offseason — though much has been discussed about the fact that most of his salary ($680 million out of the $700 million total) has been deferred well into the future. But that hasn’t stopped the Players Association’s executive director, Tony Clark, from also indicating he believes something may be rotten in MLB. He told The Athletic that the state of the market is “interesting” and that he finds it “hard to believe any time that major-league players, that can help teams win ballgames, are unsigned.”

Believe it or not, Opening Day is less than a month away. Hopefully, for the sake of the fans who want to see the best product possible on diamonds around MLB, one side or the other acquiesces soon and some of the game’s best players can finally lace up their spikes.

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