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Olney: Unrest at MLBPA could lead to players pushing for salary cap

Rob Manfred Tony Clark Rob Manfred Tony Clark - LG Patterson/MLB via Getty Images

A salary cap could eventually make its way to Major League Baseball.

At least that’s what ESPN’s Buster Olney thinks.

Olney joined TSN 1050 Toronto’s First Up Wednesday morning and said recent reports of unrest in the MLB Players’ Association could eventually lead to changes at the top of the union, with players advocating for a system that may restrict team’s spending but ultimately lead to more money in the average player’s pocket.

Olney said any talk of a salary cap was immediately shut down by union leadership in past negotiations.  But that tune is starting to change between union members.

“I can tell you there are a lot of players, middle-of-the-road players, rank-and-file players that are like ‘Wait a second. If potentially we’re going to get more money as a group, why are we not thinking about this? Why are we not having a conversation about this?’” he said.

“And now everything we’re seeing in free agency, where veteran players, guys who have been playing for 10 years, 11 years, are getting $2 million a year while some of the high-end guys are getting enormous contracts. The rank-and-file is feeling like [the interest] of the average player in the big leagues needs to be represented better.

“So, I think with the momentum of this thing, eventually there’s going to be changes at the top of the union and we will see a conversation about a salary cap system, which would be absolutely, it would be ground-breaking in baseball history to have something like that.”

According to multiple reports, players are frustrated with MLBPA executive leadership and advocated for the removal of the union’s deputy executive director, Bruce Meyer, during a video conference Monday night. Players pushed to replace Meyer with Harry Marino, a lawyer who previously led unionization efforts among minor-league players. Union head Tony Clark did not levy a judgement on Meyer’s future during the call, reports indicated.

“What happened the other night is that you had players on a conference call tell Tony Clark, the union chief, that they are looking to fire the union chief Bruce Meyer because they don’t believe in Bruce’s vision for that they’re doing, and they think that Bruce is too closely aligned with [agent] Scott Boras. They think Tony Clark is too closely aligned with Scott Boras,” Olney said.

The unrest comes amid a slow off-season for free agents that included star players like Cody Bellinger and Blake Snell – both Boras clients – accepting short-term contracts rather than getting the long-term, nine-figure paydays they were reportedly hoping for.

MLB currently has a competitive balance tax system that forces teams to pay a tax based on how much they exceed the yearly threshold and how many consecutive years they’ve done so. MLB’s threshold for 2024 is $237 million and will increase to $241 million the season after.

Olney said this may have prevented some teams from being interested in certain free agents this winter, surpressing their market.

“If you have a salary cap system, from the rank-and-file, that means the teams that are tanking and spending $35, $50, $60 million, maybe that floor is at $100 million. Maybe it’s at $120 million. And I do believe the system that MLB is going to want to talk about with the union, there’s going to be big picture, more money for the pool of players,” Olney said.

Olney added a salary cap may restrict the earnings of some of the top-end players, but would end up benefitting more at the bottom, particularly veterans.

“The guys making $42 million, maybe that gets capped. But, at the bottom end, a lot more players instead of making $2 million, maybe they’re making $6 or $7 million. And I think that’s going to get a lot of support within the union.”

MLB’s current collective bargaining agreement, negotiated by Clark and Meyer, runs through 2026. The original agreement was reached on March 10, 2022.