MLB: MLBPA’s revenue-sharing grievances are a mystery

The MLBPA has filed grievances against four MLB teams over their use of revenue-sharing funds, but what the union hopes to accomplish in doing so is unclear.

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(Photo Credit: Roberto Coquis)

Sage advice passed down by business moguls over the years includes the moniker, “don’t confuse activity with productivity,” and it seems the leadership of the MLBPA could use a refresher in the meaning behind that phrase.

On the heels of a slow offseason and perhaps facing membership discontent about a collective bargaining agreement that now appears to have been hastily negotiated, the MLBPA engaged in some activity on Tuesday, Feb. 27. Whether that activity is actually productive is questionable.

According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the PA filed grievances against the Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays over what it says is an improper use of revenue-sharing funds by the four clubs. The CBA dictates that funds received from the league’s revenue sharing pool have to be spent to “improve the on-field product.”

It’s uncertain right now what evidence the PA has to substantiate such allegations. It’s also uncertain what the PA hopes to accomplish by levying the allegations. This isn’t the first time the PA has used this tactic.

History of revenue-sharing grievances

In 2010, the PA was on the verge of filing a similar grievance against one of these same franchises, then the Florida Marlins. The PA ultimately passed on filing the grievance, however, when the Marlins agreed to increase payroll and allow the league office to monitor its finances for the next three seasons.

If the goal of the PA’s activity, in that case, was to force the Marlins to spend more on player salaries, the bottom line makes it look like it backfired. The Marlins’ player payroll went from over $65,000 in 2011 to just under $41,0000 in 2013.

Perhaps this failure of threatening a grievance is the reason the PA went ahead with the grievances this time. It’s unclear whether they will be any more effective, however.

Limitations of the arbitration

Unless the PA withdraws its grievances before the arbitration hearings take place, independent arbitrators will review statements by both parties and try to ascertain whether any violations of the CBA occurred. There are two large issues for the PA.

The first is that there are many things which teams can justify as fitting under the umbrella of improving the on-field product. The CBA does not provide a hard and fast list of things included in that designation. It’s not by any means limited to player payroll. Player amenities like the sleep room provided for players by the Boston Red Sox could fall under the umbrella of improving the on-field product.

Second, the arbitrator can only assess whether teams violated the CBA by not spending enough of their revenue sharing funds on purposes under that broad umbrella. The arbitrator has no authority to impose specific standards on teams to get into compliance, such as spending more on player payroll.

Because of their relative impotence to effect much significant change on the share of revenues that the players as a group receive, these grievances look like symbolic gestures by the leadership of a union which sacrificed a lot of power to the owners in the last round of CBA negotiations.

Perhaps if the arbitration hearings could turn up findings that teams violated the CBA with their revenue sharing fund usage that could provide support for individual players who file their own grievances that teams colluded together to damp their wages or leave them unsigned altogether. In that event, these grievances will have served a purpose.

That’s a specific set of circumstances, however. Outside of that situation, the MLBPA has confused activity with productivity.

Should the four teams against which grievances have been filed be forced to spend more on player salaries? Let us know in the comments below.

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