MLBPA head Tony Clark on draft-pick compensation, drug agreement changes, A-Rod, Phillies draftees, pre-free agent extensions

February 22, 2014 - 6:18 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark, after a visit to the Red Sox clubhouse on Saturday as part of his 22-day, 30-team tour, illuminated the association's stance on a number of issues. Of perhaps most immediate relevant to the Red Sox were his comments about draft-pick compensation for free agents who receive and reject the qualifying offer (derived from an average of the top 125 salaries in baseball). Stephen Drew rejected the $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox in November; because teams would now have to fork over a draft pick to sign him, the shortstop has seen his market impacted drastically, with limited interest in him -- a stark contrast to a player like Jhonny Peralta who did not receive a qualifying offer and ended up netting a four-year, $52 million deal from the Cardinals early in free agency. "It's a concern," said Clark. "The way the free agent market has played itself out over the last couple of years suggests that draft pick compensation in the free agent market in general is a concern that we're paying attention to. Obviously we still have guys, very, very good players, quality players that can help a number of clubs, who are still on the market, some with draft pick compensation, some not. So it's something that we're paying attention to. It's something that we're concerned about. And it's something that I'm sure will be a topic of discussion here going forward." Of course, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement which defined the current rules of draft pick compensation runs through the 2016 season. And at this point, Clark acknowledged that he's "not sure" that the concerns about draft pick compensation have reached a point that would permit the re-opening of the CBA rules. "At this point in time, we're gathering information to try to determine exactly what is happening," said Clark. "We believe we have an idea or an understanding. There's a number of conversations people are having related to those particular players that, once the offseason finishes and we have an opportunity to look back, Lord willing, with those guys signed, if not, conversations are going to be had related to exactly what transpired over the course of the season. Based on that information it's going to determine what kind of discussions we have. "There are certain criteria that's going to have to be met for the CBA to be opened up. I'm not sure that's happened. So it may be something where between now and 2016 we can continue to have discussions. I don't think it's in anyone's best interests, what's happening right now, clubs or the players. But if it's something that has to be addressed come 2016, then we'll address it then." More from Clark: On why draft-pick compensation has been a drag on free agency: "The issue seems to be tied to how clubs are valuing draft picks against the backdrop of that player who is becoming a free agent. We have now two years to look at, so we weren't sure exactly what was happening the first year. We have a little bit of a better understanding after this year. But our understanding at this point in time is that the connection of the restrictions that were put on the draft along with the value that those clubs are putting on those draft picks is suggesting that they all seem to be functioning the same way related to those free agents who carry that compensation. That at this point in time is what we think is happening, but again, we're doing what we can to make sure we understand the dynamic as a whole." On whether players should give greater thought to accepting the qualifying offer (none of the 22 qualifying offers made under the current CBA has been accepted): "The players will inevitably make the decision as to whether or not they think it's in their best interest. There's any number of circumstances that come into play when they're trying to decide whether or not to accept that offer. Going forward, players will continue to make that decision against the backdrop of what they see happening and whether they see the value in that number with respect to where they are in their career." On whether the Phillies' reported decision to report some unsigned draft picks to the NCAA for having agents -- a nearly universal practice among draftees, though the representatives are referred to as "advisors" -- is an issue for the MLBPA: "If you mean the recent accounts of the commentary related to the NCAA players, yes we have an issue with that. We have a number of people that are involved in trying to determine exactly what went on there based on the activities of the team that was involved, but I'm not going to offer much beyond that. But yes, it's a concern." On whether there is interest among the players in stiffer drug penalties: "The great thing about the Joint Drug Agreement is whenever you're having a discussion about the CBA, it doesn't often open up before the next CBA when you sit down and talk. Joint Drug Agreements, there's an opportunity every offseason, if there's a conversation worth having, to improve the program. Those conversations are happening and where we end up is where we're going to end up, but at this point in time, as we have every offseason since the Joint Drug Agreement came into existence, we have conversations. Guys have concerns. Guys have concerns on areas beyond penalty structure, inevitably making sure that the program does what the program does what it's supposed to do in the best way that it can." On whether the 162-game suspension of Alex Rodriguez, in the absence of a positive drug test, represents a harmful precedent going forward: "What's in every player's best interest is the process that's in place. The binding arbitration process has been in place since it was struck for in 1972. It is a process that has been very beneficial to both sides from the standpoint of making sure that an independent arbitrator has an opportunity to hear whatever case is brought. In a situation where a number of the players that were involved in the Biogenesis case, were involved beyond a positive test, having that process and system in place was beneficial. At the end of the day, not against the backdrop of a positive test, every player has an opportunity should he decide to take it to go through that process and have his case heard. So, independent of the outcome, although I think we went on record in our press release suggesting we did not agree with the outcome, the process itself, we are entirely behind.

On whether he has a preference to see players test the open market instead of signing potentially below-market extensions: "All we want are players to be happy with what they sign and educated when they sign it. Period. Beyond that, we're not going to get caught up in any one particular circumstance. At the end of the day, we've always believed that an educated player makes educated decisions. He's going to make a decision predicated on where he's at at that time, where his family is at at that time. We support those guys in every instance."