Dan's Dugout: Union Picks Strange Spot for Free-Agent Camp • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Union Picks Strange Spot for Free-Agent Camp


BRADENTON, Fla. – Guess who’s coming to dinner?

In this sleepy Gulf Coast community, where only the Pittsburgh Pirates are supposed to train, an unexpected tenant is moving in.

It’s the Major League Baseball Players Association, which will open a three-week camp for all free agents not represented by Scott Boras.

Scott Boras says his players won’t come to the union camp in Bradenton

The union announced Thursday that it will pay travel and hotel expenses, plus insurance and other fees, in an effort to end the free-agent freeze that has made the winter even colder for many of its members.

Not to mention the nation’s baseball fans, who have had nothing to watch this winter beyond old movie re-runs on MLB Network.

The boisterous Boras, meanwhile, has instructed his clients to sit tight as he tries to place them with teams that dislike his demands for too many dollars and too many years.

Having another team in Florida could help alleviate the log-jam caused by having an odd number of clubs (15) training there. But the new “team” of free agents, to be managed by former Houston Astros field boss Bo Porter, could form a formidable foe for any major-league club.

Florida’s 16th team will consist of veteran free agents

The choice of Bradenton to host the free-agent All-Stars is similar to the choice of bobsledding as a vehicle for Jamaica to enter the Winter Olympics.

Vero Beach, regarded as a spring training paradise by fans and media, has stood empty since the Los Angeles Dodgers jumped to Glendale, Ariz. after a 60-year stay.

Plant City, once the home of the Cincinnati Reds, and Fort Lauderdale, where the Baltimore Orioles followed the New York Yankees, would have made good sites too.

And how about the domed Marlins Park in Miami? The free-agent team would draw more fans for its workouts than the depleted Marlins will draw for their actual games.

Arizona had plenty of possibilities too but the union decided to stay on the East Coast, presumably giving an advantage to teams that train east of the Mississippi.

For sure, scouts will descend on the site like swallows returning to Capistrano. They’re already looking for accommodations.

For the players, the key is avoiding injury. Virtually all free agents must pass physicals with their new teams but injuries suffered in an unaffiliated camp could prove hazardous to careers, especially for players on the wrong side of 30.

Although players, agents, and union reps deny it, a wildcat strike was seriously considered before cooler heads prevailed. Though the union doesn’t want to violate the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, they will remember this winter’s freeze when they negotiate the next one in a few years.

Of the handul of free agents who signed, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and Adrian Gonzalez took low-ball offers to play for the New York Mets and Carlos Santana joined the Philadelphia Phillies early when he realized there was a glut of first basemen on the market. Lorenzo Cain was the only one of eight Kansas City Royals who seized the chance to jump ship.

Jay Bruce returns to the Mets after a short sojourn in Cleveland
Credit: George Napolitano

Most teams turned their backs on the remaining free agents, with the notable exception of relief pitchers. Colorado signed several, including erstwhile Cubs closer Wade Davis.

Since spring training starts next week, all 30 teams will soon know who’s hurt, who’s not, and who’s likely to jump from minors to majors. Then they’ll turn their focus to free agents and hope their winter price-tags melt away.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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