Rob Manfred claims he didn’t know the Marlins would slash payroll, gets raked over the coals

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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred appeared on Dan LeBatard’s ESPN radio show today. The show originates out of Miami and the Marlins and their recent fire sale were, understandably, the main topic of conversation.

But though the topic was predictable, it turned out to be a combative interview, in which Manfred deployed some lawyerly evasion when it appeared he was caught in a lie about his and the league’s foreknowledge of the Marlins’ plans to slash payroll after being sold to Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. And it ended with Manfred, apparently, giving his full endorsement to tanking.

The interview — video/audio of which can be seen below — started out with LeBatard asking Manfred directly if he was “aware of Jeter’s plan to trade players and slash payroll.” Manfred attempted to evade the simple yes or no question, but then said “we do not approve operating decisions by ownership, new ownership, current owners or not, and as a result the answer to that question is no.” He then said “I’m not going to be deposed like this is some adversary thing. You wanna ask me questions, I’m going to answer the way I want to answer them.”

LeBatard then called Manfred out, incredulous that Manfred was unaware of Jeter’s plans to trade players and slash payroll, saying “we’re starting out with a lie, Rob . . . you can’t tell me you’re not aware of this.” LeBatard pressed him again, saying “were you aware of this?” To which Manfred said, “no, we did not have player-specific plans from the Miami Marlins or any other team . . .” He also said that the league did not see a payroll plan from the Marlins “until two days ago.”

The emphasis in that quote is added. You’ll see why once you see what Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported this afternoon after the interview:

A source directly involved in the Marlins sales process, after hearing the Le Batard interview, said, via text: “Commissioner said was not aware of [Jeter] plan to slash payroll. Absolutely not true. They request and receive the operating plan from all bidders.

“Project Wolverine [the name for Jeter’s plan] called on his group to reduce payroll to $85 million. This was vetted and approved by MLB prior to approval by MLB. Every [Jeter] investor and non investor has the Wolverine financial plan of slashing payroll to $85 million. Widely circulated.”

This is where Manfred’s legal training comes in, of course. Note his use of the phrase “player specific plans.” Manfred — once he realized he was denying knowledge of the Marlins’ plans to slash payroll — inserted that phrase to give him technical veracity. It can and should be read as “we did not know, specifically, that the Marlins planned to trade Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcel Ozuna.” Which is meaningless of course, because (a) he knew that the Marlins planned to slash payroll to $85 million; and (b) the only way to do that would be for the Marlins to trade away Stanton, Ozuna and likely Gordon.

Manfred clearly wanted to give off the impression that the league had no idea of what Sherman and Jeter planned to do, but he clearly knew. Is it a lie? I suppose we can argue the technicalities of that. It was certainly, however, an attempt to mislead. It’s also quite possible, if the Miami Herald report is accurate, that his comment about not seeing a Marlins payroll plan “until two days ago” is a lie, but that probably depends on how he’d define “payroll plan.”

This was not the only nugget from this interview. Get this from Manfred later in the interview:

“The strategy that, apparently, the Marlins have adopted is one that is tried and true in baseball. I’m not saying it’s without pain. As a matter of fact, I think the fans in Houston endured some bad seasons. But it was a process that ultimately produced a winner, and that process is really dominant in terms of the thinking in our game right now, in terms, particularly, of smaller markets’ ability to win.”

Translation: the Commissioner of Baseball is now on record as saying that teams should tank to win. That’s a position some outside observers and analysts have taken and, clearly, the tack certain teams have taken in building their teams. But it’s not without considerable controversy and it’s remarkable to hear the Commissioner of Baseball endorse it. For the leader of the game to tell fans, “hey, your teams might suck for a while as the owners rein in their costs, but maybe it’ll work out” is a very different thing than an analyst saying it. Given that there are absolutely no guarantees that other teams, let alone several of them, can count on an Astros-style turnaround, it’s an endorsement of bad baseball and owners’ interests above fan interests.

Which, if you’re aware of baseball’s business history is not surprising. It’s well known that, throughout baseball history, the league and its commissioners care about owner profits first and foremost and that they prefer lower payrolls to higher ones. The examples of this are legion, in fact. Indeed, the real shocking news here would have been if Manfred and the league DID NOT know that Sherman and Jeter planned to slash payroll.

Which makes one wonder why Manfred so ineptly claimed otherwise at the outset. His predecessors were so much better at hiding it.

Ronald Acuna tops Keith Law’s top-100 prospect list

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ESPN’s Keith Law has released his annual top-100 prospects list. According to Law, Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna is the number one prospect in baseball.

After blazing through High-A and Double-A ball last season, Acuna was the youngest player in Triple-A in 2017. He was 19 years-old all season long and put up a fantastic line of .335/.384/.534 in 486 plate appearances at Double and Triple-A. He then went on to star in the Arizona Fall League, leading that circuit in homers. Law, who is not one to throw hyperbolic comps around, says, “if Acuna stays in center and maxes out his power, he’s going to be among the best players in baseball, with a Mike Trout-ish profile.”

Acuna, who is 20 now, is likely play the bulk of the season in Atlanta, even if he’s kept down at Triple-A for the first couple of weeks of the season to manipulate his service time, er, I mean to allow him to develop his skills more fully. Or something. Given the presence of reigning Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte, Acuna is not likely to man center for the Braves this year, but Law says he’d be a plus right field defender, which could make the Braves outfield Death to Flying Things in 2018. At least when Nick Markakis is not playing.

Number two on the list: Blue Jays third base prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. As law notes, the name may be familiar but he’s not very much like his old man. Mostly because young Vlad can take a walk. Which is better, even if it’s nowhere near as fun as swinging at balls that bounce in the dirt first.

For the other 98, you’ll have to click through.