In response to the unprecedented number of free agents still on the market with spring training just days away, the Major League Baseball Players Association will open a spring training camp for unsigned players to train for the upcoming season, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
The union informed agents of the decision in an email Thursday. The camp will be held at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., starting Tuesday and is tentatively scheduled to run through March 4. Former Houston Astros manager and Washington Nationals third base coach Bo Porter will lead the workouts. Other coaches and trainers will also be on hand to assist players.
It is the first time the MLBPA will hold its own spring training camp since 1995, when one was opened at the end of the players’ strike.
Nearly 100 of the 166 players who became free agents at the end of last season remain without teams less than a week before pitchers and catchers are due to report to their clubs. The list features several marquee names expected to garner lucrative deals, including J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas.
So far, outfielder Lorenzo Cain’s five-year, $80 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers is the richest signed this offseason. According to ESPN Stats & Information, nine players have signed three-year deals after 27 were given out last year. Clubs spent $2.53 billion during the 2015-16 offseason, $1.45 billion last year and $780 million this cycle.
The teams’ spending decrease has created tension between the two sides, which seeped into the public domain Tuesday when the union and the league each released statements blaming the other for the logjam. First, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark blamed the market’s malaise on clubs’ “race to the bottom” and said it “threatens the integrity of the game.”
A short while later, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred responded, insisting owners “want to win” and implied that players and their agents have done a poor job assessing the market, pointing to “substantial offers, some in nine figures” that have been made to the best of the crop. A few players later took to Twitter to defend the players’ stance.
The tit-for-tat came after Brodie Van Wagenen, a prominent agent, released a statement on Twitter last week stating that “a fight is brewing” and a spring training boycott was a possibility. A spring training boycott would violate the collective bargaining agreement, and Clark later shot down the notion of one.
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