Alex Anthopoulos investigation proves the MLBPA is watching and will be heard

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

This is the winter ahead, when Day 6 has the general manager of the Atlanta Braves uttering a perhaps untidy, though probably not sinister, sentence and the Major League Baseball Players Association leaping to the defense of a player-acquisition system it senses has grown impure. Or, rather, impurer.

When, here we are, Alex Anthopoulos says he’d spent recent weeks discerning what other ballclubs could be up to in the coming months, actually mentioning free agency by its given name — “free agency” — and the union counters with the promise of a full investigation into just what the heck he meant by that.

How it looked in real-time:

Anthopoulos: “Every day you get more information. And we’ve had time to connect with 27 of the clubs — obviously the Astros and [Nationals] being in the World Series, they were tied up — but we had a chance to get a sense of what the other clubs are going to look to do in free agency, who might be available in trades.”

Generally, this is the sort of quote that, for its blandness and well-that-is-your-job properties, would die — alone yet unafraid — in a reporter’s notebook. 

This one did not, for whatever reason.

And, because this is November 2019, and because this November 2019 follows the winters of 2017-18 and 2018-19, and because ballplayers and their union are convinced they’d been had in those winters, the Players Association responded with its version of hellfire.

Union chief Tony Clark: “The statements made by Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos call into question the integrity of the entire free-agent system. The clear description of Club coordination is egregious, and we have launched an immediate investigation looking into the matter.”

The trigger here has to do with connecting with other teams and coming away with clear ideas of their strategies, particularly as they relate to free agency, which the union believes could suggest a collusive effort to foil the efforts of all but the top free agents, perhaps in part by using trades to skirt or manipulate that market.

Alex Anthopoulos' comments on free agency caught the attention of MLBPA chief Tony Clark. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Later Wednesday, Anthopoulos clarified, “In advance of the General Managers meetings, I called around to Clubs to explore the possibility of potential off-season trades. At no time during any of these calls was there discussion of individual free agents or the Braves’ intentions with respect to the free agent market. To the extent I indicated otherwise during my media availability on Monday, I misspoke and apologize for any confusion.”

Clark is doing his job, keeping the gate. The idea that a general manager would give away strategic positions and therefore risk competitive advantages and ultimately his job, that a general manager is by nature averse to using someone else’s money to acquire the best players, that a general manager would not love to buy them all and then stand on the biggest float in the parade, however, requires a good amount of cynicism. 

So, perhaps, the union is trying to throw Anthopoulos through the window of the bar for picking up the wrong drink.

Except, the same union is also weary of service so slow and inattentive it knows it might not get another drink, and this has been going on for years, and the guy picking glass shards from his pocket square is the wrong-place, wrong-time winner.

The union, Clark, the players, they sense more of the same coming. That is, a sullied market that rewards the top, say, 5 or 10 percent, that abandons the middle class, that summons handfuls of like offers from handfuls of clubs for the same player, that breeds non-competitive franchises operating under the alibi of the long view, that weeds out the veteran working stiffs in favor of 21-year-olds making the baseball version of minimum wage. 

So, they are sensitive to all the words, all the phrasing, all the smoke that reminds them something feels unfair, all the evidence that seems just out of their reach. A guy in Atlanta said a thing he didn’t mean to say exactly like he did, not because it revealed a deeper truth but because it unintentionally aggravated a deeper wound, and suddenly everybody’s grabbing at everybody else’s lapels again.

The union says it will investigate. Otherwise, the moment provided a fine opportunity to say, again, it is watching. That it is not happy. That it will be heard.

So, here we are, exactly where the game around the games is anymore. Here we are, on Day 6.

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