Manfred: Lockout preferred to in-season strike if no deal

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO- While insisting Major League Baseball is focused on reaching a labor deal, Commissioner Rob Manfred signaled that owners likely will lock out players if the current contract expires Dec. 1 without a new agreement.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, but there has been labor peace since a 7 1/2-month strike began in August 1994 and forced the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.

“We’ve been down this path. We locked out in ’89-’90,” Manfred said. “I don’t think ’94 worked out too great for anybody. I think when you look at other sports, the pattern has become to control the timing of the labor dispute and try to minimize the prospect of actual disruption of the season. That’s what it’s about. It’s avoiding doing damage to the season.”

Talks have been going on since spring but have lacked the momentum toward an agreement that characterized negotiations that led to deals in 2006, `’11 and ’16.

Baseball had a 32-day spring training lockout in 1990 and while opening day was delayed a week, each team was scheduled for a full 162 games.

“Honestly, I can’t believe there’s a single fan in the world who doesn’t understand that an offseason lockout that moves the process forward is different than a labor dispute that costs games,” Manfred said.

While the luxury tax threshold was $210 million this year with a 20% rate for first-time offenders, management has proposed having a $180 million threshold with a 25% rate.

Teams also have proposed a $100 million payroll floor, which the union opposes because it is tied to tax penalties at the higher end.

Owners also have proposed replacing salary arbitration – for players with three years but less than six of major league service plus the top 17% by service time between two years and three – with pay determined by FanGraphs WAR The union considers that the type of salary scale it has rejected since 1989.

Players currently eligible for arbitration would have the option of being grandfathered under the existing arbitration system.

Players, concerned with service-time manipulation, have proposed dropping free agency eligibility from six seasons of service to five and arbitration eligibility to two seasons, where it stood before the 1985 strike settlement.

Owners instead proposed free-agent eligibility be changed to the age of 29.5 years.

Teams have rejected the union’s proposal for revenue-sharing changes, designed to benefit smaller markets and to incentive positive performance. The clubs have proposed a restriction that a team could not pick among the first five in the amateur draft in three consecutive years.

“We remain committed, No. 1 priority, to make an agreement prior to December 1,” said Manfred, who was the league’s chief negotiator before becoming commissioner in 2015. “We understand, I understand that time is becoming an issue. That’s a challenge. We’ve had challenges with respect to making labor agreements before, and we’ve got a pretty good track record of overcoming those challenges.”

Manfred was not surprised that several free agents have reached agreements since the World Series, even though CBA rules for next season are uncertain.

“We’re pretty good about following the law,” he said. “The law is you should continue to operate as normal even during the negotiating period in free agency. And that means clubs making individual decisions as to what’s best for them. So that’s what they’re doing.”

On other topics:

TAMPA BAY

The Rays were given permission in June 2019 to explore splitting their home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal after the expiration of their lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, which runs through the 2027 season. The Rays made a presentation this week to the executive council.

“The council didn’t come to a conclusion on that, but really almost exclusively because of the press of other business,” Manfred said. “It’s a complicated topic.”

OAKLAND

MLB gave the Athletics permission in May to explore relocation options if they are unable to secure a new waterfront ballpark in Oakland.

“They’ve continued to try to find a solution in Oakland. At the same time, they’re exploring Los Vegas as an alternative,” Manfred said. “They’ve worked really hard on both paths.”

RULE CHANGES

Seattle chairman John Stanton, consultant Theo Epstein and MLB executive vice president Morgan Sword reported on the competition committee experiments.

“The pitch timer experiment in the Cal League was one that the owners remain very interested in because of the success,” Manfred said. “And frankly, we’ve seen some of the same outcomes in the Arizona Fall League.”

TACKIER BALLS

MLB is moving toward a new rub for baseballs that will lead to tackier surfaces, which many pitchers have sought, especially the crackdown on unauthorized substances began June 21.

“We actually have a couple of options in terms of tackier balls,” Manfred said. “There’s going to be some testing done over the winter. I think there will be – we will be far enough along that there will actually be kind of live game, I’m hoping, testing in spring training and we could just be using a new ball next year. Maybe it’s going to be 2023 instead, but we’re continuing to work on that project and have made real progress. The trick is tackier, but not so tacky that it’s Spider Tack, right?”

BROADCAST

Diamond Sports Group, a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group that acquired Fox’s regional sports network, hopes to start a streaming RSN service and has asked permission from MLB.

“We see what’s going on with respect to the RSNs as a problem that needs to be solved, but an opportunity that needs to be seized, as well,” Manfred said. “Clubs really supportive of aggressive action to make sure that we are reaching our fans in the most effective way possible.”

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.