It's been no secret that players are frustrated with the number of free agents left unsigned midway through February of another slow offseason. Some of the game's biggest stars have taken to social media to voice their displeasure and there is growing concern that some teams aren't doing all they can to win in the coming season.
Commissioner Rob Manfred dismissed that notion on Sunday during a press conference with reporters in Florida, and instead shifted the blame away from the teams that have been less aggressive in free agency.
“The assertion that teams aren’t trying started last spring training with [MLB Players Association chief] Tony Clark singling out four teams,” Manfred said. “He did very poorly with those four teams. This narrative that our teams are not trying is just not supported by the facts. Every single team wants to win.”
After dozens of veteran free agents remained unsigned when spring training began, Clark and the players union filed a grievance against the Rays, Athletics, Marlins and Pirates for failing to appropriately spend revenue-sharing money. The A’s won 97 games and went to the playoffs, the Rays won 90 games and the Pirates finished above .500.
In addition to superstar free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, former All-Stars Dallas Keuchel, Adam Jones and Craig Kimbrel still do not have jobs with spring training games set to begin later this week.
“We’ve had a lot of change around the game,” Manfred said. “It may look a little different to outsiders—the way people think about the game, the way a winning team is put together. That doesn’t mean teams are not trying.”
Clark issued a statement through the MLBPA on Monday in response to Manfred's comments, calling them "unconstructive and misleading at best."
The commissioner also blamed Harper’s agent Scott Boras for contributing to the growing apprehension and division between players and clubs.
“When you pronounce three years ahead of somebody’s free agency the player’s going to be a $400 million player—when there’s never been a $400 million player in any sport—that becomes an impediment to the bargaining process," Manfred said. “But it takes two sides to make an agreement. And I do believe with respect to these players, clubs and the agents who represent these players will find a way to make a deal.”
How soon these deals are made, however, remains to be seen.