MLBPA will closely watch teams after influx of nearly $1 billion from BAMTech sale to Disney

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Major League Baseball, after selling the remaining stake of its streaming video company to Disney for $900 million, certainly has piqued the interest of the players union, which will closely follow whether that influx of money will be re-invested into player salaries and team payrolls.

MLB, which sold its remaining 15% in BAMTech earlier this month, provides an influx of about $30 million per team. There were nine teams who still had payrolls under $100 million last year, with only six teams that exceeded the lowest $230 million luxury tax threshold.

The payroll disparities also resulted in a great divide of competitive balance among teams on the field. There were 14 teams that finished at least 20 games out of first place in 2022, including 10 that were at least 30 games out of first. There were four teams that lost 100 games, and four that won 100 games.

Now, with teams collecting uniform patch revenue for the first time, increased TV rights, and potential expansion fees on the horizon, there’s no excuse for teams — perhaps outside Oakland with its stadium woes — to intentionally tank.

“The industry is doing well,’’ union executive director Tony Clark said Wednesday afternoon at the Major League Baseball Players Association meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona. “The industry, I believe, is better when all 30 teams are competing for the last team standing. And we believe that the system is designed to provide that support.’’

Clark, who received a five-year extension this week, said he has been pleased so far in the early returns of the free-agent market. New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz received a record five-year, $102 million contract — the most given to a reliever in baseball history — and 35-year-old Jose Abreu signed a three-year, $58.5 million deal on Monday. There are nine players on the free-agent market expected to command contracts exceeding $100 million, led by New York Yankees MVP Aaron Judge, who should receive in excess of $300 million by the Yankees or San Francisco Giants.

“The value, we think, there has been a healthiness to the conversations early, and we’re interested to see how it manifests itself over the long haul,’’ Clark said. “But with the game having returned already from a financial standpoint, we remain optimistic that things will continue to progress positive.’’

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Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark speaks with Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker before Game 2 of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park.
Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark speaks with Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker before Game 2 of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park.

Teams spent a record $3.625 billion in free agency last off-season, shattering the previous record of $2.4 billion, and now for the first time since 2019 teams should be able to enjoy normalcy. Spring training is expected to start on time without interruption from COVID. There is no lockout or work stoppage. Teams will be able to have full capacity at ballparks and spring training sites.

“Every free-agent class is different,’’ Clark said. “As a result, individual teams’ needs are different in any particular season. So you appreciate each market for what it is. What we’re hopeful for is an environment that all 30 teams are looking to be competitive. ...

“We’re hopeful, and remain optimistic that some of the early positive signs yield some excitement built this off-season.’’

The MLBPA, for the first time, also have unionized minor league players, after discussing the possibility seriously for years. They are striving to achieve an increase in salaries, enhanced living conditions, travel and meals.

If the conditions for minor league players are improved, it’s quite possible it could increase baseball’s recruitment as it battles the NFL and NBA for the country’s best athletes.

“We hope that any number of improvements that we're able to make here, across the board,’’ Clark said, “make it a little bit more enticing than it might have otherwise been. We have often voiced concerns and tried to make certain improvements in certain areas. As much as it may have been romantic to ride on the buses and the experiences that you get from the minor leagues going back to 'Bull Durham,' the opportunities both at the collegiate level and in other sports are a little different.

“Providing young people an opportunity to see baseball in a fashion that is a more real intangible option for those that are the most talented in that regard. We want to make sure [baseball] remains an option as opposed to what we've seen, which is guys choosing other sports."

Although virtually all of the former and current major-league players, including Clark, a 15-year veteran, endured the economic and physical hardships of minor-league baseball, there has been no resistance to accepting minor leaguers into the union.

“The major-league guys are committed to leaving the game better than how they found it,’’ Clark said. “The minor-league guys are committed to leaving the game better than how they found it. So, while there’s an acknowledgement of not experiencing what I went though, make for some interesting fireside chat, the truth is that guys want the experience to be better for it.’’

It’s no different for Clark, 50, who was hired in March 2010, as the union’s director of player relations, and became executive director after the death of Michael Weiner. The union is more powerful and unified than ever before, longtime union officials believe, and has become more active in reaching all of its constituents. The union is establishing an office in the Dominican Republic, for the first time, to engage with its international players. It will be announced at a press conference in the Dominican next week.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity, suffice it to say,’’ Clark said. “I’m humbled to be in a position to continue to advocate for the guys. There’s a lot of work still left to be done, and we’re excited about keeping to it. ...

“I tip my hat to our group, to their engagement, their involvement, to their energy and interest, in protecting the game and protecting their fraternity. Leaving the game better moving forward is as strong and as committed a group as we’ve seen in some time.’’

Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Disney purchase of BAMTech prompts MLBPA to monitor teams' spending