Examining MLBPA’s Motivation as Monday Deadline Set for Ohtani Decision

Listen, I understand that some of you are tired of hearing about this whole Shohei Ohtani situation. I, however, remain inextricably consumed by it and will continue to write about the matter until such time as my attention is stolen away by a new shiny object. But since they just keep polishing the chrome on this particular trinket, I keep playing with it.

You may notice that I finally relented in my choice to spell his last name without the “h,” which came as the result of a clarification by CAA, Ohtani’s US agency. Though it’s little more than a matter of continuity, there’s no reason to continue swimming upstream.

FanRag’s Jon Heyman compunction, however, and it’s to his reporting that we now turn for the latest on what we recently learned should be a hasty resolution to this whole posting ordeal. We have known for a short while now that the MLBPA represented the final obstacle to the Japanese star’s move to MLB since the union has veto power over foreign transfer agreements.

As Joel Sherman of the New York Post pointed out, the union could potentially balk at the arrangement due to the inequity of Otani’s bonus relative to the $20 million posting fee received by his old team, the Nippon Ham Fighters. The union made good on those fears Wednesday, objecting to the agreement between MLB and NPB and even going so far as to present a counter.

“The union is holding up the posting agreement,” Heyman quotes one management source as saying. “The union is making demands.”

There was some thought that the union might be bluffing, perhaps just flexing its muscle and taking those CBA-granted veto powers for a test drive. Both sides seemed hopeful that a resolution would be reached by December, and Heyman tweeted Thursday morning that the MLBPA had indeed set a Monday deadline to reach a decision on the matter.

So here’s where we get to the questions about the union’s motivations for either preventing or facilitating Ohtani’s immediate arrival in MLB. On one hand, they could be seeking to protect his interests by ensuring that he’s not somehow being fleeced by the CBA’s new rules and/or his current team. And that holds some water, I guess.

Except that Ohtani has been steadfast in his desire to play baseball in America regardless of how much money he earns and reports of his spartan lifestyle abound. What’s more, the union agreed to the changes in international signing rules that now prevent Ohtani from realizing his full financial potential until the age of 25.

Heyman mentions that the union might essentially be thinking it’s doing Ohtani a solid, sort of protecting him from himself. In essence, they’re the Candy Man trying to talk Charlie Bucket into a Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar when all he really wanted was a plain ‘ol Wonka Bar. The purpose of the union is, after all, to help it’s members maximize their earning power and their benefits.

But management sources wonder whether the union’s complaints about the future arrangement are a “backdoor” attempt to aid Otani, or even a way to “discourage” Otani from coming over now. Just a two-year wait could boost Otani’s guarantee by as much as 100-fold, which would make a wait until 2020 the likely decision of just about anyone but one of the world’s athletes who aims to prove his two-way mastery at the MLB level.

But here’s the thing, Ohtani isn’t part of the union yet and won’t be until he’s on a major league roster. As such, the best decision for union members might indeed be to let him come over posthaste. His minimal bonus comes from international pool money and his rookie salary would have negligible impact on his team’s payroll, which means more money for current union members over the next several seasons.

As it now stands, a team wouldn’t have to choose between Ohtani and, say, Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta. Free from the restrictions of the CBA’s international signing rules, however, Ohtani’s likely $200+ million deal would absolutely stagnate or at least limit the money available to other free agents in the winter of 2019-20. And with teams trying to move to Playoffville, you’d have to think the mid- and upper-tier players would be those most impacted.

All that said, the people this really benefits are the owners, who have the incredible good fortune of potentially adding an impact arm and bat at the same time at a mere fraction of the market values for either. Which brings us back to the idea that this could simply be a you-know-what-swinging contest staged for the express purpose of exerting a little force and perhaps trying to strong-arm MLB into future concessions.

And while this particular impasse stems from a very specific individual situation, commissioner Rob Manfred recently announced that pace of play rules would be put in place next season with or without union approval. So you can imagine how the players association might want to gain leverage where they can, even if that means dragging their feet or acting as a fly in the ointment.

The good news is that we’ll have a hasty resolution to this matter and, I’m sure you hope, a cessation of my obsessive rambling on it.

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