SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Saying Major League Baseball’s new Economic Reform Committee is “focused in on how best to depress player salaries,” MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark on Saturday vowed to fight any efforts by the league to implement a salary cap after the current labor deal expires in 2026.
Clark, speaking from the union’s new Arizona satellite office, said that despite concerns from owners about the estimated $300 million payroll chasm between the top- and bottom-spending teams this year, the answer is not to implement a ceiling.
“We’re never going to agree to a cap,” Clark said. “Let me start there. We don’t have a cap. We’re not going to agree to a cap.”
“A salary cap is the ultimate restriction on player value and player salary,” Clark added later. “We believe in a market system.”
The expected bankruptcy of Diamond Sports Group, which controls local broadcast rights for nearly half the teams in baseball, has deepened concerns around the sport about the potential loss of revenue as MLB tries to navigate a media landscape outside the regional-sports-network model.
The Economic Reform Committee ostensibly will convene to discuss that issue, but Clark pointed toward past efforts by the league — including the late-1990s Blue Ribbon Panel — in which consortiums of owners focused on finances always landed on the same solution: a capped system.
The spending of the New York Mets, who are projected to have a payroll of nearly $370 million, and the San Diego Padres, a small-market team committed to upward of $250 million this year, has prompted multiple owners to bemoan the system to which the sides agreed less than a year ago.
“We’ve got to see fundamental change in the economic structure of the game,” Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I believe that we’re positioned to do it — not this year or next year but over the longer-term cycle.”
The Padres, Clark said, “should be celebrated, not questioned” for their moves, which included trading for star outfielder Juan Soto in August and signing star shortstop Xander Bogaerts to a $280 million free agent contract. San Diego’s owner, Peter Seidler, said earlier this week when asked about the concerns about the long-term viability of the Padres’ approach: “When we talk about risk, there’s a risk to doing nothing.”
It’s a sentiment Clark echoed, suggesting that the Padres’ approach is something other smaller-market teams could replicate.
“The question that should be asked in regards to one team’s payroll versus another is whether or not that team is making a conscious decision to have its payroll there or whether it has the ability to increase its payroll,” Clark said.
“There were teams that historically people would say couldn’t, and they have, and in a world where there are organizations that have had success, that have had payrolls markedly higher than they have now when they have that success and yet the industry has grown, begs the questions of whether they can or they can’t,” he added later.
Clark said he is “encouraged by the progress” of negotiations between the union and the league on the first collective bargaining agreement for minor league players and that he hopes they can strike an agreement in the next two to three weeks — but that if there is no deal in place by Opening Day, they are likely to begin the season under the old economics rather than pursue a strike.
His foremost concern — something Clark deemed a “nonstarter” — is the league’s desire to trim the domestic reserve list, or the number of players it can roster at its four minor league affiliates and Arizona or Florida complexes, from 180 to around 165, which MLB believes is a number that better suits the current development systems.
“The idea,” Clark said, “of the league having the ability to cut minor league jobs and/or contracting teams further on the heels of the 40-plus teams that were contracted a couple years ago is troublesome.”