Why Detroit Tigers’ Casey Mize is ‘definitely interested’ in becoming MLBPA player rep

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Casey Mize is on the fast track to a leadership role.

The 24-year-old right-hander paced the Detroit Tigers in starts and innings as a rookie last season. The former No. 1 overall pick has set the foundation to develop into an ace-caliber arm, but his MLB career is just getting started.

“I think I’ve had some natural leadership skills throughout my life,” Mize told the Free Press. “I’ve always wanted to be pretty plugged in. I’ve always wanted to know what’s going on. Maybe a little bit of nosiness is where that stems from.”

The way Mize prepares resembles Gerrit Cole, the American League Cy Young runner-up in 2019 and 2021. Mize is determined to be one of the best pitchers in the league, and he has World Series aspirations.

Cole, a nine-year MLB veteran, is a former No. 1 overall pick. He pitched for now-Tigers manager AJ Hinch with the Houston Astros and signed a nine-year, $324 million contract with the New York Yankees in December 2019.

Away from the pitcher’s mound, Cole is a member of the MLBPA’s eight-player executive subcommittee. The 31-year-old righty joined the union’s leadership team as a player representative for the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier in his career and currently serves as the MLBPA’s alternate pension committee representative.

“I’m definitely interested in potentially being a player rep,” Mize said. “I spoke with my agent about it in the past, and I learned initially through him. He was like, ‘Yeah, I think you’d be good at it. Maybe you can look into it.’ … It’s something I’m definitely interested in and can hopefully become one day, but right now, I’m just doing what I can to learn about what all that entails.”

Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart and former Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd, who became a free agent in November, have tag-teamed the organization’s MLBPA player rep duties throughout MLB’s ongoing lockout — leading to the cancellation of regular season games — and the union’s collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the owners.

And Mize is in training.

“Casey is intellectual, a deep thinker and sees the whole picture,” said Boyd, the Tigers’ union rep for the past four seasons and an alternate rep before then. “While he is very smart on the mound, he also has an understanding of what happens off the field and has the respect of his teammates.”

‘I can provide value’

Before each season, players from each MLB team anonymously vote for the club’s player representative and alternate player representatives. The representative serves on the MLBPA executive board.

A Barnhart-Mize combination could work for the Tigers in 2022.

“As far as guys that in the future want to be a part of the union, from a leadership standpoint, Casey Mize has been very vocal that he wants to help in any way, shape or form,” Barnhart said. “I haven’t actually physically met Casey, but I’m looking forward to it. He’s been plugged in, asking all kinds of good questions and stuff. I’m excited.”

Barnhart, 31, has carried an MLBPA leadership role for the past six years, primarily as the player rep for the Cincinnati Reds. He was traded to the Tigers in November. Although Barnhart hasn’t met many of his teammates in person, he is working with Boyd, to keep everyone updated on the latest information.

Mize is active in the team’s group chat, but he also partakes in one-on-one phone calls with Boyd and Barnhart. During these conversations, Mize jots down notes about important topics. His plan is to soak up as much knowledge as he can to be prepared for future labor negotiations.

“I think I can be a good communicator for our team and a good liaison between the union and my teammates,” Mize said. “From a potential leadership standpoint, that fits my personality pretty well. I think I can provide value.”

Becoming a player representative for the Tigers piqued Mize’s interest in 2020, so he made sure to get involved in 2021. He joined some MLBPA meetings as a fill-in for Boyd last season.

“I found it interesting,” Mize said. “I knew it was something I wanted to do.”

‘Absolutely disappointing’

On Dec. 2, MLB owners locked out the players upon the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. Experiencing the lockout and tracking the slow-moving CBA negotiations amplified Mize’s desire to become a union leader.

“The biggest takeaway for me is the unity among the players,” Mize said. “It’s something we knew was there, but I think the public is starting to see that more. It’s just so obvious, the change that’s needed within our game.”

The major monetary differences between MLB and the MLBPA revolve around the competitive balance tax, minimum salary and pre-arbitration bonus pool. (In 2021, the CBT threshold was $210 million, the minimum salary was $570,500, and there wasn’t a pre-arbitration bonus pool.)

The proposals from Tuesday’s meeting in Jupiter, Florida, indicate how far apart each side is from the other.

The owners’ set Tuesday as a deadline to salvage the March 31 Opening Day, and after the MLBPA rejected the owners’ final offer, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred canceled the first two series of the regular season.

“Absolutely disappointing,” Mize said. “I wasn’t falling into the trap of what was being put out there in the media the day before, so it wasn’t as big of a shock to me that we weren’t as close (to an agreement) as they were putting out there. But disappointing, without a doubt.

“We’re going to miss Opening Day. We’re going to miss the first couple series, at least, so it’s just disappointing for players, for fans, for our game in general. It was a tough day for everybody involved, but at the end of the day, we’re going to have to get back to the table and get this thing figured out.

The MLBPA seeks a competitive balance tax threshold, also known as a luxury tax threshold, of $238 million in 2022, $244 million in 2023, $250 million in 2024, $256 million in 2025 and $263 million in 2026. MLB’s offer: $220 million, $220 million, $220 million, $224 million and $230 million.

Baseball doesn’t have an official salary cap, but if a team spends over the CBT threshold, the team is taxed on those expenses.

“The issue is it’s acting more as a salary cap than what it was designed to do,” Mize said. “We need to be able to increase that threshold to try to fix how they’ve been manipulating that system. It’s not doing entirely what it was intended to do, so we’re doing the best we can to fix that.”

Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch was one of four owners who voted against raising the threshold to $220 million, according to The Athletic, as part of MLB’s final offer Tuesday to the players.

The Free Press made multiple requests to the Tigers on Friday and Saturday for a statement from Ilitch. Those requests have not been answered.

Luxury tax payrolls for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres went above the CBT threshold in 2021, according to The Associated Press, while five teams — Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros — reached $206 million but didn’t go past the $210 million threshold, thus avoiding tax penalties. (The Tigers, considered a mid-market team, were at $103 million last season, ranking 23rd among the 30 teams. The Pirates, a small-market team, were last in the league at $61 million.)

The MLBPA wants to increase the CBT threshold to encourage MLB owners to spend more money on players. Some owners would argue raising the luxury tax will further separate the spending of small-market and large-market teams. MLB does not have a salary floor, so owners aren’t required to spend a certain amount.

MLB’s revenue grew to $10.7 billion in 2019, rising for the 17th straight season, according to Forbes. Player salaries totaled $4.05 billion in 2021, a 4% decrease from the 2019 season, according to The AP.

“So many players before us have been in the same spot and made the sacrifice for us,” Mize said. “We’re in a position where we need to do the exact same for future players. I respect so much the people that have stood where we’re standing right now, stayed strong and stuck to what they believe. They created change within our game.

“We need to respect the sacrifices they made in that, and putting us in the position we are, we need to do the same to put the future generations in as good of a spot as we can. Learning from past negotiations and seeing what past players have done is inspiring, and I think we need to do the same.”

‘Competitive integrity of our game has been damaged’

The MLBPA seeks a pre-arbitration bonus pool of $85 million that rises by $5 million per year. MLB has offered a $30 million pool that remains stagnant over the course of the new CBA.

As for the minimum salary, the MLBPA seeks a $725,000 floor that rises by $20,000 for the first two years. MLB wants to implement a $700,000 minimum that rises by $10,000 per year.

“Our league continues to get younger and younger, and the salaries don’t match the production from the young players,” said Mize, who earns the league minimum and isn’t eligible for salary arbitration. “There needs to be improvement there. The pre-arb bonus pool is an interesting idea that could provide value. The minimum salary needs to go up, without a doubt, comparative to other sports.

“More importantly, man, the competitive integrity of our game has been damaged. If we want this game to continue to be great long term, you got to be competitive. If players compete and we’re not very good at what we do, we don’t have a job. Teams are being rewarded for not being competitive anymore. I just don’t think it’s the correct system. I think you need to bring some competitive integrity back to the game that’s been damaged. We’re doing our best to fix that because that’s what the game should be about.

Remember, Mize isn’t at the bargaining table.

He isn’t a player rep — not yet, at least — and doesn’t have nearly as much influence as MLBPA executive subcommittee members Andrew Miller and Max Scherzer, along with the six other players (including Cole) on the highest rung of union leadership.

“We’re still going about our training and trying to build up and doing everything we can,” Mize said. “We know whenever it gets going, it’s going to be a pretty quick turnaround. … Just waiting on the next update and trusting the people making the decisions. We’re trusting in their timeline to get this thing done in a timely manner, but more importantly, to get the right deal done.” 

One last thing.

Mize has a message for the fans.

“I feel for you. I’m really sorry that we’re not able to be out there and provide the product on the field, but we’re trying to make the product on the field even better. That’s what we’re trying to get out of this. We want to increase the competitive nature of our game. We’re trying to protect the future of our game and trying to get a deal done that benefits fans more so than anybody else. So stick with us, and hopefully, we’ll be out there soon enough.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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