Players union chief Tony Clark blasted the Rays on Saturday for the nominal raise they gave ace Blake Snell this year coming off a Cy Young season.
Clark and his staff visit every big league clubhouse during spring training, meeting with clubs to keep them informed of union issues in advance of the season. He was in Tampa on Saturday at Yankees camp.
Snell, who is coming off a season in which he went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA, was renewed by the Rays as a pre-arbitration player and received a raise of just $15,000. He will make $573,700 in 2019. This year's major league minimum salary is $555,000.
"I'm reminded that our system, particularly under three years has minimums, it does not have maximums," Clark said. "So the idea that Blake is making $15,000 more than he did last year after contributing the way he contributed is wrong. The team could pay him more. The team is choosing not to pay him more. And what he contributed suggests that perhaps the team should have."
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"So whether it's Blake or whether it's other players, because it's not a new phenomenon, we simply hope the guys are playing attention to that," Clark added.
The Rays determine their salaries for pre-arbitration players – those with less than three years of service time (or in the case of Super 2 players those with the most experience among those with at least two years of time) with a formula based mostly on service time, with a slight margin for performance also built into the equation.
Pre-arbitration players have little control in determining their salaries unless they are willing to sign long-term deals that eat up earning potential they could see once they reach arbitration, when their continued production is rewarded through a process that earns them the right for their salary determined by a third party.
Snell, who enters the season with two years and 72 days of major league service time, will become arbitration eligible after this season, and would be in line for a major raise through the arbitration process with a solid 2019 campaign.
Snell doesn't becoming a free agent until after the 2022 season, but in the past, the Rays have traded their top arms well before they reach that mark to help them restock.
For the second straight year, a slow offseason left many free agents without homes going into spring training. And Clark said that despite the record contracts that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado eventually received from the Phillies and Padres, respectively, there's still lots of concern among players, especially with players like All-Star pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel.
That all adds to building tension as negotiations between the league and players on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is expected to begin. The current CBA doesn't expire at the end of the 2021 season, but the sides have agreed on several rule changes that are scheduled to be implemented over the next two years.
While much of the focus has been on how veteran players have been shut out in recent offseasons, Clark said that accelerating players' ability to reach arbitration and free agency – something that would have helped Snell this offseason – is something worth discussing in CBA negotiations.
"It's one piece of the puzzle, it's worthy of some conversation," Our history is tied to a number of moving economic pieces and we've had some challenges in the past and we've had some dialogue and movement in the past. So we think that's one piece of the puzzle that's worthy of conversation."