FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As is customary in spring training, the Red Sox on Saturday had their annual meeting with the leadership of the Players Association in their clubhouse.
For the first time in its existence, the Players Association is being led by a former player -- Tony Clark, who spent one season (2002) of his 15 in the big leagues in a Red Sox uniform. Clark replaced Michael Weiner, who lost his battle with brain cancer last Nov. 22.
Meeting with reporters after his 90-minute talk with the players, Clark said the topic of draft-pick compensation for some free agents is a big topic of discussion with the rank-and-file. A number of free agents who were given qualifying offers last November -- including former Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew -- remained unsigned, largely because the signing team would have to forfeit either a first- or second-round draft pick.
"It's a concern,'' acknowledged Clark. "The way the free-agent market has played itself out suggests that draft-pick compensation and the free-agent market in general is a concern that we're paying attention to. Obviously, we still have guys, quality players, who can help any number of club . . . still on the market, some with draft-pick compensation, some not.
"So it's something we're paying attention to, it's something we're concerned about, and it's sure to be a topic of discussion here going forward.''
Clark was unclear whether there would be a change in the system before the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2016.
"At this point in time,'' said Clark, "we're gathering information to try to determine exactly what has happened. There's a number of conversations people are having related to those particular players . . . [When] the offseason finishes and we have an opportunity to look back . . . those conversations are going to be [about] exactly what happened over the course of the season. Based on that information, it's going to determine what kind of discussions we have.''
Clark said "certain criteria'' are going to have to be met for the CBA to be re-opened.
"I don't think it's in anyone's best interest, what's happening right now (regarding the lack of opportunity for some players), for the clubs or the players,'' said Clark. "[If] it's something that should be addressed before 2016, we'll address it.''
Clark said the stagnant signing market is due to clubs placing greater value on draft picks than ever before.
"At the end of the day,'' Clark said, "we believe it's in everyone's best interest that the teams that want the best players have an opportunity to access the best players. [That] there is a climate that doesn't appear to afford everybody an opportunity to do so right now, for whatever reason, is a concern.
"How we change that going forward, we'll have to see.''
On other topics:
-- Clark was asked if there's support within the union to toughen the penalties associated with MLB's drug program. "Those conversations are happening,'' he said. "Where we end up is where we're going to end up . . . Guys have concerns. But guys have concerns beyond the penalty structure, inevitably making sure the program does what the program is supposed to do, in the best way it can.''
-- The Players Association continues to support the binding arbitration system to hear disputes, such as the Alex Rodriguez-Biogenesis case. "Independent of the outcome,'' said Clark, "the process itself, we're entirely behind.''
-- The PA remains in negotiations with MLB to formulate rule changes in home-plate collisions. "We all start from the standpoint that we want to make sure that players are protected,'' said Clark, "runners and catchers are protected, and that they don't find themselves in situations where injuries happen and careers changes and their ability to play going forward is affected. The conversations that we continue to have are such that we crawl before we walk here, making sure the catcher and the runner are protected. But we do so in such a fashion that the game isn't radically changed as a result of some rule being put in place.''
-- Clark said the union doesn't advise players against taking "hometown discounts," explaining: "All we want is for players to be happy with what they signed and educated
when they sign it -- period. Beyond that, we're not going to get caught up in any single circumstance. At the end of the day, we've always believed that an educated player makes an educated decision. He's going to make a decision predicated on where he's at at that time, where his family is at at that time. And we support those guys in every instance.''