SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Lockdown Endgame, Offseason Discontent, and Contract Tender Surprises!
By Andy Singer
And here we are. Baseball has been barreling towards a lockout since 2020, yet watching the it unfold in real time over the last few weeks has been sad and still somewhat surprising. At the end of the day, baseball is awash with cash, and escalating negotiation tactics doesn’t really serve anyone if it puts the game at risk. I hear a lot of people complain about listening to arguments between millionaires and billionaires, and I empathize to a certain extent with that argument, but I think we have to look at the bigger picture here. Owners across the league, with few exceptions, have been tightening purse strings for years under the soft-cap luxury tax threshold, effectively giving players a smaller slice of the revenue pie. Against this backdrop, the league itself has consistently proven willing to play games with players’ livelihood, from maddening changes to the ball (we haven’t even talked about the fact that MLB used two different types of ball, again, in 2021), to rules that significantly impact the manner in which the game is played, to rules that effectively put an entire class of player out of a job (3-batter minimum rule effectively eliminates lefty-lefty relievers and no DH in the National League eliminates jobs for at least 15 players every year). To put the final nail in the coffin, Commissioner Rob Manfred is incapable of keeping his foot out of his rather large mouth, antagonizing fans and players with every public statement. MLB and the owners have made it clear that they do not care about the fans or the players that actually play the games at every opportunity. Against that backdrop, yeah, I side with the players, and hope they get every dime they can get out of ownership.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll discuss the lockdown’s endgame, whether we should be upset with the Yankees’ offseason thus far, and react to the Yankees’ decision to tender contracts to all players eligible at the deadline. Let’s get at it:
David asks: The lockout is here like we all knew it would be. I’ve read a lot all over the place about the history of negotiations and the various proposals both sides have put forward. Hardly anyone has discussed what the likely outcome of this lockout will be. When do you think the lockout will end and what will the cba look like when it’s finally signed?
Honestly? I have no idea, and I have a hunch that’s why you have not read anyone give a prediction on either of the questions David raises. Right now, negotiations appear to be at the following point: one side says the sky is blue, the other says it’s clearly red. There’s not much room to negotiate with two sides on polar opposite sides of the negotiation spectrum. MLB is claiming that the lockout is a ploy to get both sides to the table in an attempt to save the season…sorry, I know that creating deadlines can occasionally get two sides to feel artificial pressure, but the issues we’re discussing across the baseball landscape are deep and divisive. This CBA will alter the financial direction of the game of baseball for the next generation. The players strongly believe that the owners have been able to grow their share of revenue disproportionally to players at least for the last decade. I don’t expect them to back down from at least some basic principles on which they’re negotiating, namely raising the amount of money teams spend on players in total and increasing competitiveness. MLB wants to keep costs in check and artificially boost small market teams, while continuing their trend of growing their revenue share.
Frankly, I’m not sure how the two sides will eventually bridge those viewpoints. I expect the next CBA to have a very different financial structure from the one that just expired. I do not expect Spring Training to start on time. It would not surprise me if regular season games are lost. We already saw in 2020 how shortsighted and vengeful the owners were willing to be in negotiating with the players, and I expect nothing different this year. I think we’re in for a very long, cold winter.
Al asks: The Yankees have done absolutely nothing to fix this roster this offseason even as other teams are spending big to get better. Is this yet another offseason that the Yankees are losing?
I look at this from a couple of different angles. On the one hand, I was very surprised that the Yankees were totally silent on the Free Agent and trade front. There were players who have already signed who clearly would have helped make the Yankees a better team in 2022 and beyond. Chief among those players was Corey Seager, who was my top choice on the shortstop market, and who I thought was likely to be a good shortstop for the team in 2022 and would later be able to shift to third base in the event that either Peraza or Volpe earn their way to MLB playing time. 10 years and $32.5 million per year is a steep price, but I think that the first 6-7 years of that deal are likely to be very positive. Even though I’m nearly satisfied with the starting rotation, I still would have been willing to go a second year at $25 million per year for Justin Verlander. The opportunity to get a true top-of-the-scale starter on a short-term deal doesn’t come around often, and while I credit Cashman for trying, I really wanted to see the Yankees offer a second year.
All of that being said, I think we’re missing some context here. We need to look at the teams that were doing the moving and shaking. Chief among them was the Texas Rangers, who had slashed and burned payroll to the point that they could add two big contracts and still be well below whatever financial limits come with the next CBA. The Blue Jays signed Kevin Gausman to a big deal, and even with that signing, they are still projected to have just a $161 million payroll in 2022. It was a similar story for the Mariners and the Cubs, so I think you get my point. Cohen and the Mets are operating differently than anyone else, and while I’m thrilled to see a team spend without regard for financial uncertainty, the Mets are reckless (after all, this is a team that took forever to find a GM to take the job, and I suspect ownership is more interested in making headlines than building a good front office and consistent team). In short, most of the teams that were out there making moves were teams with tons of real estate beneath the current Competitive Balance Tax threshold, so they jumped the market and paid top dollar for talent.
As it stands right now, the Yankees are likely over even the current luxury tax threshold. Without knowing what the next CBA looks like, it would be very difficult for the Yankees to add significant salary right now, particularly when we consider the fact that Hal Steinbrenner actually voted in favor of lowering the Competitive Balance Tax threshold by $30 million to $180 million. That severely ties Cashman’s hands for now. If I’m angry at anyone, it’s Hal Steinbrenner.
Beyond that, the reality is that the trade market is still ripe for picking, as is the Free Agent market. Correa and Story are still out there, and the speculation is that it will be a buyers market whenever the lockout ends. Let’s not count our chickens before they’re hatched. I’m not going to call the offseason a failure until the offseason is actually over.
Michael G. asks: Were you surprised that any of the Yankees tendered contracts, like Voit and Sanchez, were tendered contracts?
Sanchez and Voit didn’t surprise me at all. I know that the perception exists that both players are completely expendable, but the reality is very different. I have come around on the idea that the Yankees need to look for a better catcher than Gary Sanchez, but the market is so thin on catching, that it is not going to be easy to clear even the relatively modest bar Sanchez sets in total value at catcher. Voit is someone that fans underestimate. He doesn’t have much trade value, but while the Yankees likely prefer a better defender and a left handed bat at first base, Voit is still a tremendous bat…when healthy. He was never healthy in 2021, and he was in and out of the lineup every year other than his pandemic shortened 2020 MVP caliber season, but he is a potent bat that might be able to get some DH at-bats in 2022 if Stanton can really play more regularly in left field and right field. Both guys needed to be tendered, even if they become pieces in a trade later.
The one that surprised me was Andujar. I fully expected the Yankees to group Andujar in the Clint Frazier bucket, but they held onto him. The Yankees have always shown that they like Andujar, but I still don’t see a fit on the current roster. Andujar won’t cost much, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that he was tendered a contract, but it still wouldn’t surprise me if he’s among the first cuts should the Yankees make some roster additions when the lockout ends.