Although not much has happened for the Chicago Cubs this offseason, the rest of Major League Baseball is absolutely buzzing, including the Houston Astros (Thanks, I’ll be here ’till Thursday).
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred took the weekend to address much of the prevailing news, so let’s go through what he had to say and see what comes up. You’ll find partial quotes and commentary down below, but you can read his full comments here, here, here, here, here (Rays), here (MiLB), and here (MiLB), among other places.
Let’s start with the Astros stuff.
- Even though the players, themselves, avoided any discipline (and the 2017 World Series title was not stripped away), there wasn’t really that much pushback immediately after Houston’s punishment was handed down this winter. But after a few players – plus owner Jim Crane – completely failed to apologize this story into the history books, the calls for an additional response grew. And now, even Manfred concedes that the players probably should’ve worn some of the punishment: “Having said that, the desire to have actual discipline imposed on [the players], I understand it and in a perfect world it would have happened.”
- And he wants you to know they totally talked about it for like a really long time:
Manfred was asked today if he thought about stripping Astros of ’17 title.
“Yeah, we thought about it. It was actually one of the — if you talk about minutes of discussion during the process — It was high in terms of the minutes that we spent talking about it."
— David Lennon (@DPLennon) February 16, 2020
- However, the results of those discussions (re: punishing players) led Manfred to two conclusions: (1) the league still got the information out to the public and did so quickly, which was apparently a goal, and (2) if they punished the players, it would have led to a wave of grievances between the union and the league that likely would’ve been won by the players anyway. Why? Well, apparently, in Manfred’s mind, an arbitrator would’ve sided with the players because GM Jeff Luhnow did not share the commissioner’s memorandum outlining MLB’s policy on the use of technology back in 2017. In other words, how could they ever know they weren’t supposed to cheat? Whatever.
- I don’t doubt Manfred that the union might’ve won those grievances – and I understand that he wants this behind us as quickly as possible – but this is just as much of an insult to the other players around the league that follow the rules and/or were directly impacted by this scandal as it is a show of ineptitude. Sometimes, doing the right thing is hard, but if he’s not going to do it, who is?
- As for the title, the excuse is truly remarkable: “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” Pretending like winning the World Series is all about (or even primarily about) the actual, literal trophy is pretty unbelievable. Fortunately, I have a solution: let’s skip the asterisk, publicly revoke the title from the history books, but let them keep the trophy, itself. Let’s see how much it means then.
- As for other fallout, the league is working on a memorandum about intentionally throwing at batters (in part for fear of teams retaliating against the Astros), and given the success of the last memo on technology, I fully expect this to work. Jokes aside, if Manfred actually hoped to prevent this sort of retaliation, perhaps he should have taken it upon himself to do the discipling, instead of leaving justice up to the players. They’ll also have a new policy for video/tech-access during the games this year.
- Relatedly, the Red Sox, who were also accused of cheating during the 2018 season, are under an investigation that should wrap up this week:
Rob Manfred says the #Redsox investigation should be complete by the end of the week
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 16, 2020
- Oh, one more thing: Manfred doesn’t really worry about probing further to find out about the Astros cheating in 2019, because Manfred finds it hard to believe that they’d admit to cheating in 2017 and 2018, but not 2019 if they did. Yeah! Why would confirmed liars and cheaters ever lie and cheat?
- Okay, really last one, then we’re moving on:
The Rob Manfred answer on buzzers was revealing in several ways:
1) MLB was "aware" of this "before the investigation."
2) Since he felt players were honest about 2017 & '18, it was "hard to figure out" why they'd lie about '19
3) Is he "100% sure" there were no buzzers? He's not
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) February 16, 2020
- Remember how the players kept leaning on the Commissioner’s report as their total defense for the buzzer allegations? The Commissioner, himself, admits he isn’t even sure!
- The Tampa Bay Rays remain steadfast in their efforts to split their seasons between a home in Tampa Bay and a home in Montreal: “The Rays are working very hard to move this plan forward,” said Manfred. “I’ve been called crazy a lot this week — I don’t think this is a crazy idea. I think that it is a really legitimate effort to try to preserve baseball in Florida for the benefit of the Rays fans. And I do think there is some momentum to it.” Shockingly, Manfred sounds confident that he/the Rays could get the other owners and even the players to approve such a ridiculous proposal, but I’m a little less convinced.
- Worse, with plans of expansion clearly set for the near-future, this feels like burning one of the best possible locations for a new team – Montreal – on half of one of the least popular franchises in baseball. If I were Montreal, I’d push for a full, brand new home team and I’d be willing to wait to get it done.
- The Associated Press obtained a memo sent by Manfred to all 30 teams late last week announcing wage hikes for minor league players (between 38-72%). These raise bumps were negotiated between MLB and the governing body of the minor leagues to replace the agreement that expires after the 2020 seasons. But while any progress is a good thing and 38-72% sure seems like a lot, it’s important to remember two things: (1) a 78% raise on salaries significantly less than minimum wage is not nearly as much as the players deserve and (2) the league threatened to cut 42 of the 160 affiliated minor league teams during these negotiations for additional leverage, so … it’s not as though they were acting altruistically. Indeed, there is still “anxiety” of an eventual reduction in affiliates.
- In a statement over the weekend, MiLB said it “fully supports MLB’s decision to raise the pay rates for players in affiliated Minor League Baseball” but added it “believes MLB can afford these salary increases without reducing the number of players by 25 percent.” Let’s hope.