Sources: MLBPA preparing to conduct spring training camps for free agents

Tim Brown
MLB columnist
The baseball players’ union is scouting sites and making preliminary arrangements to conduct its own spring training. (Getty Images)

The baseball players’ union is scouting sites and making preliminary arrangements to conduct its own spring training for as many as 100 unsigned free agents, sources said Wednesday.

With 30 camps set to open early next week and an unusual number of players still without contracts – some among the top free agents on the market – the union is investigating sites in Florida and Arizona in case it determines a 31st camp is necessary. The IMG baseball academy in Bradenton, Florida, was believed to be among at least three options. The union also is identifying coaches and other personnel to staff the facility.

Should it come to fruition, the arrangement is likely to draw comparisons to a spring camp held in Homestead, Florida, 22 years ago during the last work stoppage in Major League Baseball history. Dozens of unsigned players waited out the strike by preparing at the sports complex, dubbed “Camp Collusion.” Many signed contracts when the strike ended in the spring of 1995. Some did not. They all became known as the Homestead Homies.

This time, the game is healthy and wealthy and being played under a Collective Bargaining Agreement that won’t expire until 2021. A series of factors – those debated, sometimes heatedly, by MLB and MLBPA officials, along with players in recent weeks – has dampened the winter market. On Tuesday, union chief Tony Clark issued a statement critical of the number of teams “engaged in a race to the bottom” that, he said, “threatens the very integrity of our game.” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred laid the blame on the players and their agents, and characterized the union’s assertions as “unfair, unwarranted and inflammatory.”

Players, agents and MLB officials followed with their own assessments.

So, spring’s new harbinger is grown men shrieking at each other through reporters on Twitter. Which, as spring harbingers go, falls somewhere between a fresh set of abdominal muscles and dome-headed mascots pretending to load semi-trucks.

It is fine theater, the men charged with running the game and herding the players and providing the talent (for a small percentage), all mad or suspicious or adamant and defending their jobs, occasionally at the cost of decorum. Perhaps, one day, at the cost of labor peace. So, yeah, real baseball games. Because that $10 billion ain’t gonna divvy up itself.

Meanwhile, pitchers and catchers report for two teams on Feb. 12 and for 19 more the following day. The first position players start reporting Feb. 18. And the first spring training games between big-league clubs are Feb. 23. The regular season opens March 29.

The union will prepare, then, for more of the same quiet, and seek to provide training options for its unsigned players. And hope, presumably, that a 31st site becomes unnecessary.

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