Getting nowhere fast

The MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) saga is continuing along the same old lines.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred held a press conference on Thursday in which he demonstrated once again all the qualities that make the 30 owners like him whilst reminding everyone else that he’s a prat.

This is a man, don’t forget, whose background is as a labour and employment lawyer and whose first substantive involvement in the game was providing legal advice to the owners during the 1994-95 MLB player strike. For all the grief he deserves – and, yes, guilty as charged – it should never be overlooked that he is representing the interests of the 30 ownership groups. Being a lightning rod for all the criticism (#FireManfred etc) is part of why he gets paid so much money.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise that baseball fans holding Manfred up as the architect of all the problems is precisely what the owners want. I’ll leave my video ‘tribute’ up all the same.

Anyway, there were several moments of hilarity (of the ‘laugh so we don’t cry’ variety) during this press conference.

The first came when Manfred completely butchered the details of one aspect of the proposal regarding the competitive-balance tax, so much so that the MLB PR department had to quickly issue a statement clarifying what he meant to say. That will sound familiar to readers from the UK. Manfred’s not quite the level of charlatan that Boris Johnson is, but that’s like saying someone isn’t as rich as Jeff Bezos.

As we’re on the topic of money, the second zinger came when Manfred gleefully pulled out his ace card to counter the accusation that the owners are coining it in by investing in an MLB franchise:

“We actually hired an investment banker, a really good one, actually, to look at that very issue … historically, the return on those investments is below what you get in the stock market”.

Where do you even start with a comment like that?! Far be it from me to question the integrity of an investment banker (although the clue is in the Cockney rhyming slang), but I can’t help but think that their terms of reference for this study was somewhat sculpted to produce a desired result. More to the point, it really does sum up the mentality of these people that only making a lot of money, rather than a shedload of money, out of the privilege of owning one of 30 MLB teams is somehow the height of benevolence.

We then had another opportunity to marvel at Manfred’s total lack of self-awareness when he proudly boasted that he was “the same person today as I was in 1998”. He was trying to say that he has always been able to get deals done and that it’s all the Players Association’s fault things aren’t going well this time around. What he actually said was that the last 24 years, in which – you may have noticed – quite a lot of things have happened, have passed him by.

Manfred then dived into the BoJo play book by refusing to acknowledge something that is blindingly obvious to everyone else (although it should be said that Johnson is more the sort of person who thinks that if he covers his eyes then no one can see him). The MLB Commissioner refused to be drawn on the possibility that the start of Spring Training will be delayed. The countdown strongly suggests otherwise, but in Rob’s world everything is fine so ticketholders can all rest easy.

In slight fairness to Manfred, he was hedging his bets on Spring Training starting on time because he had a surprise in store. Yes, MLB were going to put forward a “good” offer to the Players Association on Saturday that would surely break the deadlock and save the season for the good of the fans.

How shocked we all were to find yesterday that Manfred’s definition of a “good offer” didn’t tally with what the Players Association would consider to be a significant improvement on the previous deal, or indeed anyone’s, save perhaps for that mysterious investment banker.

This all leaves us one week closer to the MLB season and no closer to a new agreement being reached. Evan Drellich of The Athletic has been one of the best sources of information during the talks and the title of his latest update (subscription needed and recommended), penned alongside Ken Rosenthal, summed it up in sadly stark terms: “No reason to believe MLB season will start on time”.

They note that it is still possible, stating that “a deal right around the start of March probably would preserve the full schedule”, but the way the talks have gone so far does not give much reason for optimism.

I’m sure I write on behalf of all baseball fans in saying I look forward to MLB issuing a statement in due course where they explain they’ve paid an investment banker to write a report stating that the owners may lose some money if this happens.

On to the Thames

It would be remiss of me not to include some A’s news in the Sunday round-up and we do have some to look at.

The A’s love a veteran masher and, ahead of a season where we’ll need as many warm bodies as we can get, Eric Thames fits that bill perfectly.

The 35-year-old from San Jose has been signed on a Minor League contract. He seems a good bet to make the Opening Day roster if we bid adieu to Matt Olson, subject to him being healthy after missing most of last year in Japan due to an achilles injury. He’s played some outfield, but I would see him as a first base and DH candidate for the A’s.

Thames has had an interesting career, tapping into his potential in the Korean Baseball League after failing to make much of an impression in 2011 and 2012 with the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners. He had three productive seasons back in the Big Leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers across 2017-2019 and then played regularly for the Washington Nationals in the shortened 2020 season.

If Thames seems like a perfect fit for us UK A’s fans, you should remember that he pronounces his surname as fames rather than the same as the river that flows through London. That’s a bit of a shame, but does potentially open up more song ideas for him (the theme from Fame? etc).

Look out for that on our YouTube channel if he does make the A’s roster!

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