You knew it was coming.
The signs were everywhere.
The frustration was visible in their faces, anger dripping from their voices, and frustration tearing at their souls.
And on Tuesday morning it happened.
The Major League Baseball Players Association officially filed a grievance against Major League Baseball accusing four teams — the Oakland Athletics, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays — of failing to comply with the rules of how they spent their revenue-sharing money.
The war is on.
“If we got to ruffle a few feathers, so be it,’’ New York Mets veteran third baseman Todd Frazier told USA TODAY last week, “because this game needs the best players. We need some questions answered. We got to figure it out. we got to figure something out. If we got to ruffle a few feathers, so be it, because this game needs the best players.
“It’s frustrating. And it’s weird. It’s like we have to really look into what happened last season. We got to move forward with some action.’’
And the union did just that with their grievance, furious over the slow free-agent market, infuriated that spending is not keeping up with the revenue, and incensed that teams deliberately are not trying to win.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement states that each club must use its revenue-sharing receipts to improve its performance on the field, prohibiting the use of the money to service debt not related to improving on-field performance.
“We have received the complaint,’’ MLB said in a statement, “and believe it has no merit.’’
Yet, no one can deny there are legitimately 11 teams who are rebuilding, and in some cases, really have no intention of winning.
“You look at a division like ours,’’ says San Francisco Giants third baseman Evan Longoria said, “and you know it’s nice to compete against every team because they went out and got better. Every team.
“It’s not to say you wouldn’t want the extra 18 wins if you don’t have teams (competing), but it’s still better to have that competition for the game. For the fans. For everybody.’’
Yet, the Marlins, Pirates and Rays all traded their biggest stars this winter. The Rays dumped Longoria. The Pirates unloaded Andrew McCutchen. And the Marlins traded Giancarlo Stanton and the rest of their star-studded outfield.
They made it loud and clear they don’t plan on winning this year.
“Whatever’s going on,’’ says Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Steven Souza, who was traded last week from Tampa Bay, “it’s kind of like a black cloud on baseball. We could point fingers here all day, but it’s not good for the game to sit here and nobody knows who’s going to be their teammate.
“There’s never been an off-season in baseball like this in baseball, and hopefully we can come together with the owners, MLB, collectively in a positive foundation for the fans.’’
The trouble is that you’ve got teams tanking in every division, or at least rebuilding. In some divisions, you can make the playoffs almost by default, considering the unbalanced schedule. In the NL East, only the Washington Nationals and Mets are even trying to win. In the NL Central, it’s just the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers. And in the AL Central, Cleveland might as well line up their postseason rotation now with the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals in complete rebuilds.
“We, as players, honestly just want 30 competitive teams,’’ Souza says. “It’s what the fans come to the game for, it’s what we play the game for. Ultimately, we want to compete against the best and I think it’s the owners’ job to do that. We’re obligated to go out there and compete with 30 teams and not with teams that will be competitive three years from now.’’
“Ultimately, we want to do things for the fans so they’re enjoying the game.’’
The owners, of course, say they’re looking out for the best interest of their franchise. They point towards the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, who gutted their teams, and won the last two World Series. They look at the Kansas City Royals, who went to the World Series in back-to-back years after rebuilding.
Tanking teams are now convinced they can be just like them.
“We’ve run our organization in a very open, transparent fashion since the day I’ve come in and try to prepare people for what we’re doing,” Rays principal owners Stuart Steinberg said. “I don’t know what happens from here. It’s uncharted territory for me, and I would imagine the other teams as well. But if it wants to be explored, or needs to be explored, I don’t get it.’’
Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly also dismissed the grievance, calling it, “patently baseless.”
“Our revenue-sharing receipts have decreased for seven consecutive seasons while our major league payroll has more than doubled over this same period,” Coonelly said in a statement. “Our revenue-sharing receipts are now just a fraction of what we spend on major league payroll. We also have made significant investments in scouting, signing amateur players, our player development system and our baseball facilities. …
“The Pirates have always invested its revenue sharing receipts in a manner entirely consistent with the Basic Agreement.”
Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said: “As we have done since the day we took over in October, we will continue to do everything we can to build a foundation for sustained success and improve this organization — which has not made the postseason since 2003 and has gone eight seasons without a winning record.’’
And so it goes.
The players and union are incensed that these small-market clubs are not spending the money they receive in revenue sharing, much less the $50 million cut each club gets from the latest MLB sale of its digital arm to Disney.
The teams are mad at the players, believing that no one has the right to tell them how to conduct their business, or for anyone to accuse them of deliberately losing.
The war of words have been strong all winter, and now the union’s grievance makes it clear they want action.
“I wish the commissioner would come around to every team and we could talk to him,’’ Frazier said. “That would be pretty interesting. I wish he would come out, and show his face, so I can talk to him.
“I’ve got about 20 questions I’d love to ask him.
“And they wouldn’t be the nicest questions either.’’
The chorus is getting louder by the day.
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook.