Rob Manfred

MLB now acknowledges that owners are discussing changes to the pension plan

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The other day, when Adam Rubin reported that MLB owners were considering eliminating the pension plan offered to non-uniformed employees like scouts, administrative staff and the like, MLB Vice President Rob Manfred said that there had been “no discussions” about eliminating the pension plans.

Rubin has updated his report:

MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred acknowledged that candid discussions on the topic have gone on for “several years,” but he disputed that pensions will go away entirely.

“No one is suggesting that pension plans are going to be eliminated,” he said. “What the conversation has been about is allowing individual clubs more flexibility as to what exactly their pension plan is going to look like. Nobody is suggesting there is going to be no plan … for anybody. The issue is in the current arrangement we essentially mandate a particular type of defined benefit pension plan. The question is whether the individual team should have more flexibility to design a program that is effective to them.”

Well, that is a discussion, actually. And, actually, teams were already able to opt out of the plan and institute their own as long as it conformed in certain respects to the existing plan.  It’s also worth noting that every company in the history of commerce who cut benefits to employees did so under the guise of “flexibility.” It’s the number on H.R. buzzword for “you guys are now going to be paying more for health insurance” or “you guys are now going to be paying for your own retirement” and the like.

There is a suggestion in the article that MLB may consider keeping things status quo for existing employees and simply not offer pensions to new hires. That would be a way, way better solution than the one Rubin first reported the other day. At least that gives potential hires notice as to what they’re getting into and does not change things for people in midstream.

But a larger lesson here: when Rob Manfred says that something is not so, wait a couple of days and that position may … evolve.

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images
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The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.

The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.

For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
Associated Press
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The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.

St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.

The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.

Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?

Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.