On Tuesday, free-agent infielder Manny Machado’s contract negotiations caused a stir for the second time in a month. Back in January, Machado’s agent Dan Lozano railed against rumors stating Machado had an offer in hand worth a specific dollar amount. This go around, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark issued a brief statement through the union’s Twitter account condemning a similar report from Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports. Heyman had provided a range of values he believed contained Machado’s offer from the Chicago White Sox.

Here is the exchange:

Reporting on, speculating about, and dissecting contract values has become so commonplace in sports and sports media (and to be clear, we’re as guilty of this as anyone) that it might be hard to understand why Lozano and Clark are upset. Let’s try to explain their thinking.

Per the CBA, free-agent bidding is supposed to be a confidential process — one where teams are ignorant of each other’s offers. Back in the 1980s, teams colluded using information banks, in which they shared notes about their negotiations. This exercise kept costs down by insuring no one would break lockstep and make a bigger offer than was necessary. Scott Boras referenced the information bank last year in response to MLB-issued criticism:

“I find it interesting that the league office can state as fact that the age free agents have ‘nine figure’ offers since the CBA mandates that teams not share that sort of information,” Boras said. “I am also curious how a public statement communicated to all teams about offers on the table and players demanding too much money, from a central office that oversees, coordinates with and represents the 30 teams, is any different than the infamous ‘information bank’ in the 1980s.”

Whether MLB’s owners have a similar system in place now is anyone’s guess. Even if they don’t have a central database, leaking offers to the press can serve a similar purpose — as Marc Normandin recently wrote in his newsletter, “[the owners don’t need] to collude the old-fashioned way if the media is going to pass notes for them.” Add in how one of the most-used explanations concerning the past two offseasons is that teams have all gotten wise and are evaluating players similarly using objective methodology, and it makes sense that the union head and a top agent would be sensitive to the topic at hand as well as satellite topics.

Keep in mind, leaks like the one Heyman tweeted are designed to benefit the team. An agent pushing offer terms to the press has likely already shopped the same numbers to every interested and potentially interested club. Putting those terms out there could theoretically draw in a previously disinclined party, but that seems less likely than the alternative; leaks, essentially, are better wielded to construct ceilings than floors.

And that’s without considering the public relations aspect. If such-and-such has an offer worth millions, but continues to seek more money, then the perception is such-and-such is greedy. The inverse scenario — a team unwilling to offer such-and-such fair value — seldom plays out. It’s part of the public relations battle the union and individual players continue to fight.

So, why are Clark and Lozano (among others) annoyed with the press publishing offer terms? Three reasons: 

  1. It’s against the CBA.
  2. It’s a reminder of collusion past. 
  3. It’s a tool to further suppress player wages at a time when that’s already en vogue. 

If and how the press should deal with these concerns is to be debated. But you don’t need the answers to understand Clark’s problem.

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