The Major League Baseball Players Association announced Tuesday it has filed a grievance accusing four teams — the Oakland Athletics, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays — of pocketing revenue-sharing funds rather than using them to improve their teams, as mandated in the sport’s labor agreement.
The filing, first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, marks the first legal filing in the ongoing dispute between the union and management over the unprecedented free agent stalemate this offseason, which has left dozens of big league players still unsigned two weeks into spring training.
Union spokesman Chris Dahl confirmed the filing of the grievance but did not elaborate on its specific claims. MLB said in a statement that it had received the grievance and believe “it has no merit.”
However, Pirates President Frank Coonelly issued a forceful statement calling the union’s charges “patently baseless.”
“We look forward to demonstrating as much to the arbitrator if the MLBPA continues to pursue this meritless claim,” Coonelly said. “ … It is regrettable that the MLBPA would react to a free agent market that is not to its liking by filing a frivolous grievance.”
The Basic Agreement agreed upon in 2016 stipulates teams must use revenue-sharing receipts — which redistributes a portion of local revenue from large-market to small-market teams — “in an effort to improve its performance on the field” and prohibits the use of those funds to service debts unrelated to on-field performance.
With as many as 10 big league teams currently in downsizing mode — sometimes referred to as “tanking” — the union has been outspoken about the practice, with chief Tony Clark decrying the “race to the bottom” that, he said, “threatens the integrity of the game.”
The Marlins (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon), Pirates (Gerrit Cole, Andrew McCutchen) and Rays (Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson) all traded away veterans this winter and spring in moves that saved tens of millions of dollars in future salary commitments.
The union singled out the Pirates and Marlins in a letter to MLB last month expressing concern over those moves.
In his response Tuesday, Pittsburgh’s Coonelly said, “As indicated when the MLBPA first indicated its ‘concern’ in a news release, the Pirates have always invested its revenue sharing receipts in a manner entirely consistent with the Basic Agreement. As previous indicated, our revenue sharing receipts have decreased for seven consecutive seasons while our Major League payroll has more than doubled over this same period.”