Rob Manfred fires a warning shot to owners regarding opt-outs

Associated Press

Opt-outs are the hottest trend in high-priced baseball contracts. Sign a six-year or a seven-year deal with a player opt-out after three and, bam, the player can be a free agent again. Jason Heyward, David Price and Johnny Cueto just got opt-outs that will make them a crap-ton of money if they’re healthy and even moderately effective over the next couple of years. Zack Greinke just exercised one that made him a crap-ton more money than he would’ve gotten had he played out the full term of his deal with the Dodgers. CC Sabathia took advantage of one a couple of years ago too.

Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with Ken Rosenthal yesterday, however, and said that he doesn’t quite understand them, at least from the club’s perspective:

“The logic of opt-out clauses for the club escapes me. You make an eight-year agreement with a player. He plays well, and he opts out after three. You either pay the player again or you lose him. Conversely, if the player performs poorly, he doesn’t opt out and gets the benefit of the eight-year agreement. That doesn’t strike me as a very good deal. Personally, I don’t see the logic of it. But clubs do what they do.”

Manfred is not dense. He understands perfectly why clubs agree to them: because great players with tons of leverage have demanded them and, if a club wants to sign that player, they’re going to agree to them. That’s how an arm’s-length negotiation between parties with power and agency work. If, instead of an opt-out, you imagine the item as “a case of Founder’s Breakfast Stout in my locker on the first of every month,” maybe it’d be more understandable. It’s a thing asked for and a thing granted. It’s what makes the “free” in “free market” and “free agency” make sense.

To better understand this, maybe Manfred should ask himself why clubs offer club options. A player makes a three year agreement with a club. He plays poorly, the club opts out after one, leaving the player with no real security. If he plays well, the club gets him at a lower price than if he were able to go back out on the market. I can’t recall him sounding puzzled about that.

So, if Manfred does understand what’s going on here — and I am sure he does as he is extraordinarily intelligent — what is he doing?

I suspect he’s firing a warning shot or, at the very least, delivering a message. A message from the owners who employ him and who do not or cannot afford to get into big money free agency game to the owners who have been handing out opt-outs in free agency. Telling them that they should cut it the heck out or signaling to them that their smaller-payroll brethren don’t much care for the practice. And it has to be Manfred doing this — and doing this in a general, non-specific way — because if one owner tells another owner not to do it, that starts to smell like collusion.

All of this makes sense when you remember that, historically, the biggest disputes about money in baseball haven’t really been between owners as a group on the one side and players as a group on the other. They have been between owners of different factions, with those less willing or able to spend going to war with those who are. We don’t see that too often because by the time money disputes make general news the sides have more or less gotten their members in line, but the root of most of these things — including and especially the 1994-95 strike — is a faction of owners not liking where the rich teams were taking them.

I suspect that we’re seeing the same dynamic at play in opt-outs. Manfred giving voice to some grumbling on the ownership side and, perhaps, trying to prep people that opt-outs could be an agenda item when the CBA negotiations begin.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.