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MLBPA boss Tony Clark concerned about unsigned free agents requiring compensation

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Union head Tony Clark is concerned that free agents who would cost a team a draft choice for signing them are still without jobs.

Of the 13 players who would require compensation, three remain unsigned with teams already at spring training — shortstop Stephen Drew, designated hitter Kendrys Morales and right-hander Ervin Santana.

"The way the free agent market has played itself out over the last couple of years suggests that draft pick compensation and the free agent market in general is a concern that we're paying attention to, obviously," Clark said Saturday after meeting with Boston Red Sox players.

"We still have guys, very good players, quality players that can help any number of clubs who are still on the market, some with draft-pick compensation, some not."

Teams that make qualifying offers to their own free agents are entitled to a draft pick as compensation if the player signs elsewhere.

Making his first tour of training camps since becoming executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Clark said the compensation issue would be "a topic of discussion," although the current collective bargaining agreement runs through the 2016 season.

"There's certain criteria that's going to have to be met for a CBA to be opened up (before then) and I'm not sure that's happened," Clark said. "I don't think it's in anyone's best interest what's happening right now, the clubs or the players, but if it's something that has to be addressed come 2016, then we'll address it then.

"The connection of the restrictions that were put on the draft along with the value that those clubs are putting on those draft picks is suggesting that they all seem to be functioning the same way related to those free agents who carry that compensation."

Players have the option of accepting their team's qualifying offer and avoiding free agency. Clark said it's up to them to decide what to do.

"We believe it's in everyone's best interests that the teams who want the best players have an opportunity to access those best players," he said. "The idea that there is a climate right now that doesn't appear to afford everybody an opportunity to do so for whatever reason is a concern. How we change that going forward, we'll have to see."

Clark became deputy executive director of the union last July. He became executive director after Michael Weiner, who had a malignant brain tumour, died last November. Clark is the first former player to lead the union.

"Whatever I'm offering to (players), they know I've been there, been through it," he said. "So my perspective is very similar to theirs."

Clark began his tour of all 30 major league camps on Friday in Port Charlotte, about an hour north of Fort Myers, where the Tampa Bay Rays train. He planned to complete his trips in 22 days.

He also expressed concerns over how Major League Baseball's desire to eliminate home-plate collisions will be implemented. That proposal hasn't been released and is subject to approval by the union.

"We've got to be very careful here," Clark said. "You're talking about, fundamentally, runs being added or subtracted from a scoreboard that change the dynamic of a game. So now you start talking about the integrity of the game itself.

"We crawl before we walk here, making sure that, again, the runner and the catcher are protected, but we do so in such a fashion that the game isn't radically changed."

On other issues, Clark said:

—players have concerns about the joint drug agreement "beyond a penalty structure, inevitably making sure that the program does what the program is supposed to do in the best way that it can."

—the union is "entirely behind" the binding arbitration process that resulted in the suspension of Alex Rodriguez even though he didn't test positive for a banned substance.

—if players say they'll accept a hometown discount to stay with a team rather than seek a richer deal, "all we want are players to be happy, to be happy with what they sign and educated when they sign it."

—former union head Marvin Miller's absence from the Hall of Fame "is disappointing on a lot of levels."

—the subject of bullying in the clubhouse didn't come up in his meetings with the Rays and Red Sox and "I don't see it being an issue."

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