Union: Dead time in free-agent market 'threat to our game'

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NEW YORK (AP) — The head of the baseball players’ association expressed concern over a second straight offseason that has seen many Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and many other free agents remain without deals less than a month before spring training.

“All the dead time in the last two free-agent markets is a larger threat to our game than any supposed dead time between pitches,” Tony Clark said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Wanting to increase the pace of games and concerned about a drop in offense, management has made proposals to the union that include a pitch clock and rules changes. The players’ association says it will respond, and unlike last year the union appears open to discuss the issues.

Against this backdrop, just 58 of the 164 players who exercised the right to become free agents following the World Series had announced deals through Thursday afternoon. That is up from 45 of 166 on the same date last offseason, but this year’s free-agent class contains far more accomplished players.

Those still available included Harper, Machado, pitcher Dallas Keuchel and closer Craig Kimbrel.

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“When they’re signing that late, it’s just how major league owners choose to do business and how the commissioner’s office has directed them to do so,” agent Scott Boras said Thursday.

Major League Baseball declined to respond to Clark and Boras, spokesman Pat Courtney said.

Boras, more than most other agents, is known for negotiating late into the offseason. Last year, he reached a $110 million, five-year contract between J.D. Martinez and Boston that was announced Feb. 26 and a $75 million, three-year agreement between right-hander Jake Arrieta and Philadelphia that was announced March 12 — about a month after spring training began.

“What we learned from last year, this is standard operating procedure,” Boras said. “The airplane of talent, when they’re at the airport, they may tell us when we can leave but no one’s flying anywhere without us.”

Boras represents Harper and Keuchel. He says changes in club front offices have led to drawn-out negotiations for free agents.

“I would imagine that in the analytic abyss, you want to explore your investment of having your staffs go out and find the gaps in trades before you explore for free agency,” he said.

Boras said all the front-office hirings of analytics personnel have changed the mindset of decision-makers.

“I can do more at greater value in the trade market than I can in the free-agent market because of our improved secret, special, unique science of algorithmic analytic function,” he said of their mindset. “We know the league better than others. We’ve invested millions in this. Let’s take time to use it.”

Baseball used to have a rush to sign free agents after the World Series, similar to the hectic pace when the NFL, NBA and NHL offseason markets open. Because of late signings, some teams have had less time to promote acquisitions in an attempt to increase advance sale of tickets.

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“Damage to the marketing of the game is immense,” Boras said.

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