Red Sox: J.D. Martinez has some interesting comments on next CBA
By Drew Athans
With the current CBA set to expire after the 2021 season, Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez had some thoughts on competitive balance and changes he’d like to see.
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association (MLBPA, aka the “union”) is set to expire after the 2021 season. From rule changes to free agency and everything in between, there are a whole host of issues that the two sides will need to address and agree upon in order to preserve the uninterrupted labor peace that has existed since the crippling 1994 players strike that wiped out the World Series.
One issue in particular has been a gripe of countless fans of the game as well as the media who cover the sport, so much so that it’s drawn the attention of Boston Red Sox slugger JD Martinez. This has to do with Major League Baseball’s competitive balance, or lack thereof. In layman’s terms, far too many teams are content to tank for multiple seasons in the hopes that the multiple high draft picks they acquire through this approach end up panning out.
This approach has paid dividends most recently with the Houston Astros, who spent 2011-2013 tanking to the tune of three straight 100-loss seasons before their draft picks (including Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Alex Bregman) blossomed into star players. The end result was a (tainted) World Series championship in 2017, a (tainted) ALCS berth in 2018, and a (tainted) American League pennant in 2019.
Multiple teams across MLB have taken note and are attempting this approach, with varying degrees of success, in the hopes of replicating the Astros ascension to the top tier of teams (minus the cheating scandal, of course). However, what this means for fans of teams like the Pirates, Orioles, Royals, Mariners, and Marlins (to name but a handful) is that they have to endure multiple seasons where their teams aren’t even trying.
As currently constituted, there is no incentive for these rebuilding teams to even try to be competitive or to spend money on keeping their homegrown talent or free agents. With league-wide revenue sharing and regional TV deals guaranteeing a steady revenue stream, these teams seem to be content to ride out declining ballpark attendance and losing seasons in order to chase the elusive success that the Astros and Royals (in 2014 and 2015) found.
Enter Martinez, who discussed this issue with WEEI’s Rob Bradford.
"“In the new CBA we have to figure out a way to make teams competitive,” Martinez told WEEI.com, referencing a collective bargaining agreement that expires after the 2021 season. “I believe we are losing a lot of fan bases in certain cities because there are no rewards for winning. There’s more of a reward for losing in today’s game than anything. I think we’re losing a lot of fans because teams are more motivated to lose than they are to win. Right now you can figure out the top three or four teams in the league and what teams are going to be competing for the World Series. That’s not how it should be. That’s what the game needs to get better at, making it more balanced.”"
J.D.’s comments cut right to the heart of the matter: too many teams are discouraged from spending and trying to compete, content to ride out losing season after losing season as long as they’re making money and attracting enough fans to the ballpark to satisfy them.
"“Of course,” he said when asked if the topic was being broached with Clark. “Everybody is on the same page. I think you heard players lash out the last couple of years about free agency and how teams aren’t competitive. There’s a new way and it’s either tank or go all in and that’s not the way it should be.”“Take away rewards from teams for losing,” he said. “That whole idea isn’t working. Look at the game today, it’s so split in half. You have your outlier like Tampa, but those are rare. To me, teams are losing a lot of fans and MLB is losing a lot of fans.”"
Martinez goes on to propose what many others both within the game and without have long pushed for: a salary floor, or more appropriately, a floor tax. The antipode to the luxury tax, this would penalize teams who don’t spend to a minimum amount and discourage them from doing what the Marlins did a couple of years ago when they traded their entire outfield of stars Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna to save money they had no intention of investing in the team.
What does this have to do with the Red Sox? Obviously they’ve never had a problem spending too little and have yet to tank a season; in fact, as is well-known, they typically swing too far the other way. Where Martinez’ comments apply to the Red Sox is when he stated that:
"“(Commissioner Rob) Manfred goes on record by saying salaries have no influence on whether teams are trying to win or not, which is totally wrong. If that was the case then get rid of the luxury tax. They don’t do that. Why? We have to figure out a way to reward teams for competing and not reward them for losing.” (Emphasis added)"
As everyone knows, the luxury tax and its penalties were what got the Red Sox into trouble enough that they felt that they had to trade Mookie Betts last month. It was a trade even MLBPA head Tony Clark said was “not necessary.” He further questioned why the Red Sox felt they needed to do so simply because of the luxury tax. One can quibble with whether that was their sole reason for making the move, but perhaps if the penalties for overspending weren’t so punitive, as J.D. alluded to, Mookie would still be in Boston.
Teams who lose year after year get high draft picks, while teams like the Red Sox who spend over the tax limit have theirs taken away as punishment. This is a profoundly unfair system (although one that the player’s union agreed to in earlier negotiations, it should be added). It appears as though the players union is now having more than a little buyer’s remorse when it comes to this system, especially as it’s also impacted them in free agency over the last few winters.
As can be seen from Martinez’ comments on this issue, the owners and players seem to be worlds apart when it comes to this issue and it will be interesting to see how this factors in, along with all of the other difficulties facing Major League Baseball, when CBA negotiations ramp up over the next year or two.