Spending spree accompanies countdown to MLB lockout threat

As the clock ticks toward expiration of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement Wednesday night, some teams have rushed to spend money on players before a widely forecast lockout can shut down the free-agency market.

It may seem contradictory, owners spending more than $1 billion on players across several days amid a fight over baseball’s economic system, but the finances of pro sports often seem incongruous.

“What we’re seeing is an argument over a share of the pie,” Kennesaw State economics professor J.C. Bradbury, who has written two books on the business of baseball, said Tuesday. “You might say, ‘Oh, the players are getting a lot of money,’ but the question here is who’s getting what share of it.”

The players’ collective share hasn’t kept pace with gains in MLB revenue, he and others argue, and that equation looms over the CBA negotiations.

The current labor deal expires at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, and barring a late-inning come-from-behind rally, it will end without a new agreement.

At that point, the owners could implement a lockout -- a move that would shut down all offseason activity, including the free-agent and trade markets, and eventually might threaten the start of spring training and even the regular season. The owners also could choose to let offseason activity proceed while continuing to negotiate with the players’ union, at least for a brief period.

But the argument in favor of a lockout, sooner rather than later, is that it might create a sense of urgency to reach an agreement before games are jeopardized.

Representatives of the owners and the players met outside Dallas on Monday and Tuesday. To this point, little optimism has emanated from months of talks.

“I could see this being resolved earlier, but I do think that there is some desire to really change things up (in the next CBA),” Bradbury said. “And so that’s where I think there’s an appetite for maybe both sides to miss some games. I wouldn’t be surprised if we do miss some games next year.”

From Friday through Monday, prodded by the looming CBA expiration, a series of free-agent players reached agreements with new teams on lengthy, lucrative contracts, according to various reports.

The New York Mets, still chasing the Braves in the National League East, spent $254.5 million by agreeing to a three-year, $130 million contract with pitcher Max Scherzer and to multi-year contracts totaling $124.5 million with outfielders Starling Marte and Mark Canha and infielder Eduardo Escobar. The Texas Rangers committed $561 million to four players in a 24-hour period, including a 10-year, $325 million deal with shortstop Corey Seager and a seven-year, $175 million deal with infielder Marcus Semien.

The Toronto Blue Jays agreed to a five-year, $110 million contract with former Braves pitcher Kevin Gausman. The Seattle Mariners and pitcher Robbie Ray agreed to a five-year, $115 million deal. The Detroit Tigers reached agreement with shortstop Javier Baez for six years, $140 million.

The spending spree notwithstanding, the Players Association wants fundamental changes in the next collective bargaining agreement -- for example, reducing the number of years of service time required for free-agent and arbitration eligibility, reigning in “tanking” by rebuilding teams and service-time manipulation by many teams, and softening the luxury tax on high payrolls.

“One thing the players should want is to get rid of revenue sharing (among teams), because it reduces the incentives to win,” Bradbury said.

Also on the table: a universal designated hitter and expanded playoffs.

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