The first domino at the top of baseball’s free-agent market finally toppled Tuesday morning, when Manny Machado agreed to a 10-year, $300-million contract with the San Diego Padres. The agreement heartened MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who spent a significant portion of a 30-minute address with reporters downplaying the tension between players and owners.
The market remains saturated with quality players, including six-time All-Star Bryce Harper, seven-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel and Cy Young Award-winner Dallas Keuchel. But Manfred suggested that the heated rhetoric unleashed by players during the offseason might soon fade.
“We still have a little time,” Manfred said at the Glendale Civic Center. “In some ways, I feel like it’s a little much ado about nothing. If, in fact, those players are all signed, at the end of the day, the season is going to go on. We’re going to have the right players playing out there on the field, and it’s kind of no harm, no foul.”
The soothing tone from Manfred stands in contrast to the messages delivered by players. Before camps even opened, most valuable players such as Justin Verlander, Buster Posey and Christian Yelich spoke out about the lack of spending from teams.
Manfred had said Sunday that players bore some responsibility for the slow market. That prompted a response from Tony Clark, the head of the MLB Players Assn.
“Players commit to compete every pitch of every at-bat, and every inning of every game,” Clark said. “Yet, we’re operating in an environment in which an increasing number of clubs appear to be making little effort to improve their rosters, compete for a championship or justify the price of a ticket.”
On Tuesday, Manfred stressed the importance of calm from both sides. The sport’s collective bargaining agreement does not expire until 2021, but the players and the owners have been in discussions recently about in-game changes like the implementation of a pitch clock.
Manfred shook his head when asked about the number of players who have mentioned the possibility of going on strike in the future. He said the issues of contention were “overblown.”
“I think it would be helpful if we tried to not sensationalize the back and forth on the individual issues,” Manfred said. “The dialogue is best conducted in a room, between the bargaining parties.”
Reminded that the tension continues to surface because players are speaking out, Manfred stuck with his stance.
“I’m not blaming either party to this negotiation, either the agents or the clubs,” Manfred said. “The fact of the matter is we bargained for a market system. We have smart, aggressive negotiators on both sides. A completely predictable tactic is to use timing as a point of leverage in those negotiations on both sides.”
Manfred could point to San Diego’s agreement with Machado as a sign of progress for the sport.
“The Padres were active last year in the free-agent market, signing Eric Hosmer,” Manfred said. “This would be another one. … I think it’s good for baseball to have big stars present in some of our smaller markets, and see those markets willing to be out there competing for the best talent.”