Earlier today, Rob Manfred held his first public press conference since the MLB lockout began at the start of December last year. With the future of the 2022 season hanging in the balance, one would assume the commissioner would address the many concerns fans have, and detail the steps that he and MLB as a whole would plan on taking to ensure the 2022 season starts on time.
But he did not.
Instead, Manfred spent the better part of a half-an-hour telling fans everything they’ve ever wanted to hear. “We’re going to have a universal DH.” “We want to expand the playoffs.” “We’re going to pay young players and minor leaguers more.” (That was a huge one) “We’re instituting a draft lottery to prevent tanking.”
“Wow!” shouted baseball fans across America. “That’s incredible. So, what steps are you going to take to make sure we have a 2022 season?”
“OK. So, it’s actually really funny—”
In his opening statement, Manfred claimed that while there were a lot of points that both MLB and the MLBPA agreed upon, there were still several areas where the league and players don’t see eye-to-eye. The example Manfred offered was with revenue sharing. Where the players would like to earn more money relative to how much revenue their teams generate, Manfred claimed that proposal would further throw off the competitive balance of the league.
OK, so we know where both sides stand, but is Manfred willing to make compromises in order to create a fair deal for both sides? While Manfred claims he is, he doesn’t offer any solutions or plans for mediation other than “we’re going to submit an offer to the players.”
Hey dingus! That’s what you’ve been doing this whole time and they’ve rejected every single one! I know you think the whole federal mediation tactic will help, but when you’re not willing to budge on your proposals, mediation doesn’t work. Both sides need to be willing to adjust their stance in order for any progress to be made, and while you claim to be all for moving the needle to get a deal done, you only seem willing to do so in facets that greatly benefit you and your bosses (the owners) and only minimally benefit the players.
Of course, this has to go both ways. As Manfred said, “It’s a mutual responsibility for both parties. Phones work two ways.” While the owners and MLB definitely need to be willing to make some compromises, maybe the players need to understand the ultimate goal of MLB, which seems to be competitive balance. It is a little questionable given that Manfred also announced the elimination of compensatory draft picks. Compensatory picks are meant to keep competitive balance alive. They’re meant to help teams who lose big-name players in free agency. There are even two rounds of compensatory picks called the “Competitive Balance Rounds.” That seems contradictory to the owners’ supposed goals, but I’m willing to believe that most owners are in fact looking for a way to stay more competitive during the season because that would likely draw in more money, and that’s all owners want. Nonetheless, if that is in fact the ultimate goal of MLB, then the players need to be willing to make compromises themselves.
The players have made it known that they want the competitive balance tax to be raised in order to encourage teams to pay players more without incurring penalties. MLB has also said they’re willing to do this, as they’ve done each of the last five years. In 2021, the competitive balance tax was incurred after a team spent $210 million on their players. Do you know how many teams finished with a payroll over that margin? One, the Los Angeles Dodgers. By increasing the competitive balance tax threshold by a wide margin like the players would like, that only really helps the teams in the biggest markets and that goes against everything the owners seem to want.
There are obviously other issues as well, though. While many fans and players were hoping to get some answers as to what needs to happen in order for the season to start on time, Manfred danced around many of those questions. When asked what the main difference between both sides was that was holding negotiations back, Manfred answered: “You’re always one breakthrough away from making an agreement. That’s the art of this process.” Wow, what a straightforward answer that totally explains the circumstance that MLB finds itself in. If you’re going to give us information on certain topics like competitive balance and revenue sharing, why not go a little deeper to help everyone understand. All Manfred’s answer did was make me think there’s a certain topic that the two sides are not close to agreeing on, that the owners are clearly in the wrong about and Manfred doesn’t want the public to know about it. Why is he dancing around the question just to give an overly optimistic anecdote? Seems strange.
It only gets stranger when Manfred starts to read off his resumé stating that he’s the “only person to make a labor agreement without a dispute.” Manfred starts claiming that the players and union reps trusted him then so they, and therefore the fans, should trust him now, as well. That’s not really how it works. If you have to say “I’m the same person I am today as I was then,” you’re probably not the same person today as you were then. Clearly, there’s something more at play this time around than there was during Manfred’s previous four labor disputes.
The most important takeaway from Manfred’s presser, though, was that he believes spring training and the MLB season will still start on time. Considering that pitchers and catchers are supposed to report in less than a week, that seems unachievable. Yes, the owners and the players will meet on Saturday, but with so much distrust between the parties and so many areas of disagreement, it’s highly unlikely that we will see Grapefruit and Cactus League Baseball by the start of March. Manfred did say that players would only need a few days of spring training in order to get ready for the regular season though, so there is some light at the end of the tunnel. If a deal can be reached a week before Opening Day (scheduled for March 31), then we could definitely have a full 2022 season without any delays.
Manfred seems optimistic that a deal will be done, but this presser only offered a few agreements made and confirmed that there are still many areas where the parties are not close to reaching an agreement on. I wouldn’t hold my breath that the season will start on time.