Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement was signed, sealed, and approved by both owners and players on Wednesday. The Players’ Association unanimously ratified their end, but only 29 of the 30 owners voted in favor of the new CBA.
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That lone dissenting vote came from the Tampa Bay Rays, where owner Stu Sternberg chose to vote “no” due to several aspects of the new agreement that left the team unsatisfied.
“I am thankful for the hard work, leadership, and spirit of compromise that were essential to this agreement coming together,” Sternberg said in a statement to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. “However, twice a decade, the bargaining process provides an opportunity to address the extraordinary and widening competitive gap that exists on-field between higher and lower revenue clubs. I feel that opportunity was missed here.”
One specific area of concern for Sternberg is around MLB’s June amateur draft, where he would have liked to see changes made to the format. The Rays finished 2016 with baseball’s lowest payroll at a little over $ 71 million, and routinely field one of the two or three lowest payrolls in the sport. As such, the small-market team relies heavily on the draft to develop homegrown talent instead of spending copious amounts of money on high-end free agents.
But the Rays’ draft slot has landed behind their big-money AL East rivals, the Boston Red Sox, six times in the last eight seasons thanks to Boston having a worse record. One notable instance came in the 2015 draft, when the Red Sox – drafting seventh overall after a bad 2014 – took Andrew Benintendi, who reached the majors this year and appears headed towards stardom. Five picks later, the Rays – who’d finished ahead of Boston in 2014 – chose Garrett Whitley. He’s now the Rays’ No. 8 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, but remains several years away from the big club.
That’s the crux of what bothered Sternberg, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, and it’s why he voted against the deal. The Rays wanted this agreement to change the draft order so it favors small-market clubs and lets them draft higher than larger-revenue teams like Boston – or perhaps allowing small-market clubs to earn extra picks – instead of having the order decided solely by won-loss records from the previous season.
“Basically nothing was done to close the huge gap in access to talent,” Sternberg told Sherman via text message. “A new approach in the Rule 4 (June) draft would have proved helpful.”
It’s not clear if the Rays proposed any changes to the draft as part of negotiations.
In addition to fielding the majors’ lowest payroll in 2016, the Rays stumbled to their first 90-loss season since dropping the “Devil Rays” nickname in 2007, and drew a league-worst 1.286 million fans to Tropicana Field. The team has suffered from stadium issues since its inception, and has had little success trying to find a new home in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.