Over the years I have noted, over and over again, that the position of Commissioner of Baseball is not what most people grew up thinking it is. The Commissioner is not an impartial or benevolent ruler. He does not preside over all of baseball seeking to maximize well being for all stakeholders.
Rather, the Commissioner is best thought of as the Chairman of the Board for the owners’ committee and his job, above all else, is to maximize their good fortune. Oh, sure, to do that he has to make sure the players don’t strike and the fans don’t leave and to that end there is an understandable balancing of interests involved. But at the end of the day, he gets fired if the owners are not happy and the thing that makes the owners unhappy above all else is not making the amount of money they think they should be making. From that, all else flows.
Even the people who understand that in theory tend to forget that as time goes on. They complain about Major League Baseball pursuing a policy — like, say, things related to television — that does not benefit fans as much as it enriches owners and act as if they have been misrepresented by the person they mistakenly think is their advocate and leader. For this reason I like to point out examples of the Commissioner acting within his true role whenever possible. When he’s not shaking hands wth baseball luminaries at photo ops or when he’s not sitting behind the bunting at the World Series, acting as First Fan as opposed to the duly-elected representative of baseball owners.
Like today, in this excellent article from Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. It’s about opt-outs in free agent contracts. If you aren’t totally up on opt-outs it’s an excellent article about the issue in and of itself. But it also provides an excellent example of Commissioner Rob Manfred acting as the head of the owners’ committee as opposed to being some overall leader of the greater baseball community. Check this out:
In a telephone interview, Commissioner Rob Manfred credited agents for skillfully using leverage but emphasized the “disproportionately pro-player” aspect of the clause.
“The only scenario where you can say, with certainty, that the player is not going to opt out is if he’s had a career-ending injury or he has performed at a level that is so far beneath the value of those out-years that nobody’s going to duplicate it,” Manfred said. “That’s the only time the player is going to stay in that contract. Otherwise, you’ve lost control of the player.”
Manfred added: “If the player’s been good, the club’s going to want to keep him. So you end up either losing him or paying him even more than you originally paid him. Neither of those are good outcomes.”
Well, sure they’re good outcomes. They’re good for the player, obviously. They’re good for fans of the team who, by definition, got good performance from the player in the short time he was there. And, in the same dang article, you learn that in some cases opt-outs are good for the team and team management itself. Here’s Sandy Alderson talking about the value of the opt-out given to Yoenis Cespedes:
“I thought it would be highly unrealistic that we would get a shortened term without some sort of opt-out clause,” General Manager Sandy Alderson said. “And the value of the opt-out clause, from our standpoint, was a shorter term — which happened to be important to us. The only way the shorter term was going to make sense for the player was with the opt-out.”
So, there is player value to the opt-out. There is fan value in many cases. And, as Alderson notes, there is team value in terms of their ability to get a player they want and to field a competitive squad.
The only unequivocal downside of the opt-out is to the owners who have to pay more for a player. And, of course, that’s the part with which Manfred is primarily concerned, as “paying more for players” is something baseball owners have been against for over 150 years. It should be noted that Manfred is not on record as far as I know talking about how it’s a bad outcome for a player to be subject to a team option which ends up resulting in him being paid less than his market value if he performs well and puts him out of a job if he performs poorly.
Anyway, just a reminder of what the Commissioner of baseball’s job really is and whose interest with which he is primarily concerned.