There really are some things that make Rob Manfred a good MLB Commissioner at this particular moment in time.
To hit it broadly, he’s inclined to be more progressive than his predecessor, and he understands that the game has undergone some negative, fundamental changes (too many strikeouts, too many relievers, not enough action, increasing game-length, decreasing pace-of-play, etc.). He’s gone about addressing some of those concerns with bold, but essential plans and rule changes aimed at preserving the long-term health of the game. And although he’s taken a lot of heat for it, I’m glad he’s pushing the game forward, even if he’s taking the players along with him kicking and screaming.
Yet, he’s rarely been able to hide the fact that he’s more a representation of the owners and teams than the sport or players, themselves. So when it comes to some of the higher profile issues pitting the players and owners against each other, it’s no surprise to see where he comes down on things:
Rob Manfred: "I reject the notion that payroll is a good measure for how much a team is trying or how successful that team is going to be."
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 17, 2019
According to Manfred, payroll is not a good measure for how much a team is trying to win. According to everybody else … rolls eyes. Now listen, there’s no question that teams without huge payrolls can win and teams with big payrolls can lose, because just about anything can happen. But then we’re also never surprised when the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, and Nationals are in the postseason every single year. And it’s funny how other teams with some cash, like the Padres and the Phillies, sit back and wait on their young players before exploding onto the scene with $250+ million offers for All-Stars.
If there were no connection between payroll and competitiveness, the luxury tax wouldn’t exist.
The simple truth is teams saw what the Astros and Cubs did (tear everything down, cut spending dramatically, build up a core through the draft and trades, and then finally spend money later), and copied it. And whether or not that’s good strategy or if those teams plan to spend in the future, the reality is that the early years of every rebuild ever is defined by a distinct lack of spending. After all, spending helps you win and that’s not the best way to get a good draft pick or acquire other young assets, right?
And the thing is, I might have been more open to the Commissioner’s position, especially when he says things like this …
#MLB commissioner Manfred: "I hate the negativity (coverage) that surrounds the game right now. … I do believe we have the greatest game in the world."
— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) February 17, 2019
… or when he comes out and says “there’s no personal acrimony between me and [Union Chief] Tony Clark,” but those sorts of comments are always followed up by the other side of his mouth:
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred points finger at union chief Tony Clark for fueling negativity around free agency/economics talk by singling out A’s, Rays, Pirates and Marlins last year in grievance. That grievance is still pending.
— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) February 17, 2019
And, sure, I don’t blame him for going out there and saying it’s not productive for one side to be out there discussing the potential for a strike a few years before it’s really likely or even possible, but I’d rather he go out and actually address the concerns of those breathing life into the strike talks as opposed to just hoping it all goes away.
Instead, he takes his opportunities to point out how wrong the players are – both broadly, and individual cases, like Bryce Harper:
Rob Manfred earlier today: “When you pronounce three years ahead of somebody’s free agency the player’s going to be a $400 million player, when there’s never been a $400 million player in any sport, that becomes an impediment to the bargaining process."
— Jamal Collier (@JamalCollier) February 18, 2019
I get that Manfred *is* on one side of this, but I wish he would represent the entire sport a little better (which, long-term, is good for the owners, no?). Because claiming that marketing yourself to future employers and appealing to fans successfully is an impediment to the bargaining process, and not just a part of the bargaining process, reveals his loyalties. Like, when Harper was asked if he thinks he’s worth $300-$400M, what should he say? Nah, no player is worth that much! Are you crazy! This is just a kid’s game.
Don’t get me wrong, the players are NOT angels (especially when it comes to rule changes (many of them are just as rooted in their unproductive positions)) and not every single 30-year-old free agent deserves a big, long-term contract. But to pretend that something hasn’t clearly and fundamentally changed very quickly would be disingenuous.
In my heart, I know who Manfred really represents, but I just wish his public stance was a bit more nuanced – a bit more middle-ground between the players and the league. Because now, his number one goal shouldn’t be to improve pace-of-play, bring the DH to the NL, or even make sure every player gets what they’re worth. It should be to preserve the long-term health of the game and to avoid a strike at ALL COSTS. Right now, he’s coming up short in both regards and that’s something to keep in mind.
In response to Manfred’s comments, MLBPA Chief Tony Clark just released this statement, which doesn’t exactly ratchet down the sparring:
Full statement here from players’ union executive director Tony Clark: pic.twitter.com/BqhX3m0IAZ
— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) February 18, 2019