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Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The Irony of the MLBPA's Recent Grievance Against the Houston Astros

On Thursday, news reports emerged that the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has filed a grievance against the Houston Astros over the team's failure to sign several recent draft picks, including the first overall selection Brady Aiken (pictured).  Nick Faleris has provided a great recap of the breakdown in negotiations between Aiken and the Astros over at Baseball Prospectus, but in short Houston had allegedly reached a $6.5 million deal with Aiken, only to pull it off the table due to concerns with Aiken's elbow that were identified during his pre-contract-signing physical exam (Aiken disputes the diagnosis).  Instead, the team opted to offer Aiken the minimum amount allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, or about $3.5 million, to sign.  Even after Houston eventually raised its offer to $5 million, Aiken refused to sign for less than the original agreed upon amount, and as a result the signing deadline for draftees passed last week without the two sides reaching an agreement.

Due to the intricacies involved in the new MLB draft system, however, by failing to sign Aiken the Astros were also unable to honor the agreement they had reached in principle with fifth round selection Jacob Nix.  Basically, MLB's CBA caps the amount that teams can spend on draft picks, and conditions some of that money on the team signing its top picks.  It just so happens, however, that Nix's agent, Casey Close, also represented Aiken, raising questions about whether the Astros were attempting to manipulate the situation to force one of Close's clients (Aiken) to sign at a reduced rate so the agent's other client (Nix) could sign as well.

The fact that the MLBPA has opted to pursue a grievance over the Astros' failure to sign Aiken and Nix is somewhat ironic given that the union has never shown much interest in representing minor league baseball players.  Indeed, the MLBPA has historically focused its energy exclusively on serving the interests of major league players, sometimes at the expense of minor leaguers (including, for example, the union's agreement discussed above to cap draft pick signing bonuses in the most recent CBA).  The resulting lack of union representation for minor leaguers is a significant factor motivating the recent Senne class action lawsuit filed against MLB, which alleges that MLB teams have failed to pay their minor league players in accordance with the Fair Labor Standard Act's minimum wage and maximum hour provisions (for more on the Senne lawsuit, check out Sports Law Blog's prior coverage of the case available here and here). 

All of this makes the union's decision to pursue a grievance on behalf of Aiken and Nix somewhat surprising.  Under the terms of MLB's most recent CBA, teams are prohibited from signing recent draftees to major league contracts.  Consequently, even if they had signed with the Astros, neither Aiken nor Nix would have immediately joined the MLBPA's membership.  Instead, they would have had to wait until they were promoted to the major leagues (or assigned to a major league team's 40-man roster) in order to join the union.  Admittedly, the draft rules at issue in the Aiken/Nix grievance were agreed to as part of MLB's most recent CBA, giving the union some interest in the matter.  But the fact that the two draftees would not have immediately joined the union even if they had signed does raise questions about why the MLBPA has elected to become involved in the matter.


At some point the players association is going to realize that the minor league players having their salaries kept so low is hurting how much the players in the majors can get. The GM's are becoming acutely aware of the fact that you do not need to overpay for talent if you can replace 90% of the production for 10% of the cost with a minor league player.

Blogger Unknown -- 8/01/2014 7:01 AM  

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