We’re still waiting for something to happen this offseason, and now it’s basically over. The 2018 baseball year is here and, as Tim Brown at Yahoo! reported yesterday, the MLBPA is going to host its own Spring Training for guys without teams, of whom there are plenty, including rumored Boston target and home run machine J.D. Martinez. Yesterday, Scott Boras — already feuding with the league over the lack of offers for his clients — was forced to issue a statement saying that negotiations with the Red Sox were still on good terms after there were reports to the contrary.
Enough. It is time to play baseball, and because it is time to play baseball it is time to pay the players to do so. Until they do, if I am one of the players, I wait. The owners are gambling that if the players sign before the season the union will do so having effectively capitulated, and thus earn less money, which the fans of the team might very well then applaud as “good business.” In a sense, of course, it would be. It’s more a reckoning, and a battle of billionaires against strong organized labor, represented by large numbers people of color, is what we’re into these days. This isn’t life and death — the players are rich, after all — but the owners are wealthy, and there’s a huge difference.
If this is indeed collusion, the Sox seem to be in on it at first glance. As recently as David Price ago, way back in pre-2016, they were knowingly paying market value for good players. This is a strategy I fully condone, understanding that, a) Not every team can, should or needs to pursue it to be consistently great, nor does every Red Sox team, because b) It is understandable that the Price contract (or any big deal) would be restrictive in the years immediately following for the Red Sox (or whoever), partially by design. The team signed Price knowing he’d be restrictive.
But this restrictive, to leave great names out there as February sludges on? Nah. This is, as my mother-in-law says, beyond. The current cultural climate has probably emboldened the owners, because getting wealthier never calms wealthy people down. It really only ever makes them want more. Unfair, as a broad comparison? Maybe and maybe not for the Red Sox, but the Cubs’ co-owner was just named the finance chair of the Republican National Committee and the owners are plainly operating in union-busting fashion. It’s all out in the open. The Red Sox are under the umbrella along with everyone else.
But what is happening, exactly? Well, the owners are clearly trying to drive down what they’d call “prices.” (We call these “salaries.”) Why pay more than you have to, they’d ask, especially when there’s no rush? The players are world-class athletes every day of the year, and it is not as if Martinez actually walking into Fenway South or wherever else later in February or (the vapors!) very early March is going to slow them down too much. In that sense, the lack of urgency could reflect a real correction in the way we think about the offseason in the era of year-round conditioning. Maybe it’ll always take longer now.
If it does, this changes also represents about 20 percent of the weirdness of this offseason, at best. There were big moves, of course, but they were legacy-process affairs: first, the scripted wooing of a legitimate superstar international player; second -- a tale as old as time, real-heartwarming -- a retired-at-45 vulture capitalist in Miami hooking up his bros back at the old firm in New York. The problem here is that those were clear exceptions to the normal process of signing players, which is barely happening at all. Only the detours remain.
Why, if not a coordinated money-saving maneuver? Well, teams could be saving for next offseason, when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, among others, hit free agency. Certainly this is true of some clubs, simply as a matter of course; superstar players are the reason the owners buy the teams in the first place, and they are sure to spend for them. It’s everyone else, the mediocre to the very good, who can piss off. To this end, there is a related argument: that the Buy Now market for Martinez and Yu Darvish hasn’t materialized because owners don’t want to raise the salary ceiling ahead of next year, which sounds partially right, and also is the definition of collusion. That one’s about 10 percent, I think.
Here’s another thought: What if the Sox just aren’t interested? Until Danny Ainge traded the No. 1 pick this offseason, we just assumed the Celtics were taking Markelle Fultz as a matter of course. That was never the plan, and that’s good for us. Maybe Martinez’s fit in a crowded Boston outfield was overlooked as an obstacle, at least internally. Maybe they even attribute the down years at the plate for some of the Sox to, gulp, John Farrell. Maybe the rumors about Martinez are all a red herring. I doubt it. But I’ll give it another 10 percent. Which leaves more than half of what I’ve seen unexplained except for garden-variety rich-people-are-getting-cheap tactics.
Before I get too far: What of the Red Sox with respect to Harper or Machado? I think they should try to sign them, per the Price policy, but I’m not confident that they will. I don’t know why. If that is their answer, they’d better get one of them. If not, I’l...l complain more online. That’ll show ‘em. For now, baseball begins anew, despite itself, and given the way this labor war is headed I strongly suggest we enjoy it while it lasts. The only thing worse than some players not suiting up for the season is none of them doing it at all, and it’s coming.