It’s not hard to see what MLB is doing right now.
Keep in mind, saying it’s not hard to see doesn’t mean it’s not hard to watch.
Still, when league commissioner Rob Manfred went on ESPN last night to claim he’s no longer confident a 2020 season will take place, it was very apparent what the goal was.
Simply put, he’s trying to avoid the nastiness which would come from him mandating a schedule. It’s in his, the owners’ and the players’ best interests to actually hammer out an agreement which brings baseball back as harmoniously as possible.
In that regard, I understand what Manfred is trying to do. He doesn’t want to just force a season upon the players, one which almost all of them would report to begrudgingly while preparing a grievance to file against the league.
Manfred is correct in saying a dialogue between the league and the MLBPA is needed here, one which has been absent since this spat began.
Manfred wants both the players and owners back at the negotiating table to salvage what slivers of goodwill remain with baseball. The route he took in attempting to get that done just happened to exacerbate an already disastrous situation even further.
Here’s what Manfred should’ve done last night. He should’ve said, point blank, “it’s time to stop this.”
Manfred should’ve acknowledged that everyone involved in this mess has collectively turned down the opportunity to win new support in dire times, instead putting more effort into turning fans away from baseball.
He should’ve admitted that MLB has given a struggling nation front row seats to the sports version of a divorce hearing.
From there, Manfred should’ve determined that now was the time for everyone to put their swords down, to stop having these talks take place through the media and finally work together to put an end to this nonsense.
And do so for the good of a sport which is losing fan interest at breakneck speed.
What Manfred instead did was threaten to erase the possibility of baseball taking place in 2020.
When he could’ve been the bigger man, when he could’ve put a stop to endless bickering which is putting a massive stain on baseball, he instead told players the owners might just have to take their ball and go home.
Again, what Manfred is doing is clear. It’s a scare tactic, an attempt to tell players their decision to force him to mandate a season isn’t going to work, that they can’t just walk away from negotiations.
However, what appears to have been a veiled attempt to create some sense of collaboration backfired in epic fashion.
Players across the league spent last night calling out Manfred and ownership. Former Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer went so far as to claim the commissioner’s latest move was a stall.
Bauer noted that mandating a shortened season now would be a bad look, especially when there’s still enough time to play around 70 games.
So, he hypothesized, Manfred’s threat is just his way of dragging his feet to the point where there’s only enough time for 48-50 games.
All in all, the league tried to soften the MLBPA’s stance on the matter, to get the union to embrace the idea of talking this out. Instead, said move was only successful at unifying players further.
Making matters worse for ownership is the fact everyone around the league now sees through what it's trying to do.
MLB’s continuous attempts to villainize the players, to make it seem like they’re the ones preventing baseball’s return, are still occurring. However, they’re also weakening.
For example, Manfred claimed league owners are "100 percent committed to getting baseball back on the field." If so, why did he respond to players literally saying “tell us where and when” by claiming there might not even be a season anymore?
Likewise, if ownership is as committed to getting the game back as Manfred claims, why are we hearing Evan Drellich of The Athletic report that there are potentially more than eight league owners who don’t want baseball to be played this year?
Again, Manfred is correct in thinking this quarrel can’t end in a mandated season. It’s too ugly of an outcome, and one which puts an even more disastrous mess on the horizon.
However, responding to players’ demands to know when the season will start by floating the idea of there being no baseball at all this summer was a bonehead move.
Now, he has two options.
Manfred can sit back and watch the owners continue to cause significant damage to the sport they’ve invested in. He can see those who have a clear pathway to recoup the money they expect to lose this year keep trying to force pay cuts on the people who make this sport profitable in the first place.
Or, he can stop this back-and-forth barb tossing. He can bring an end to owners crying poor, to arguments over the infamous March agreement.
Manfred can realize the damage currently being caused to his sport is borderline irreparable and try to stop the bleeding.
He can -- what’s the word, oh, yes -- negotiate.
I know, easier said than done. It’s impossible to believe that’s the more likely outcome when it appears the fate of the 2020 season lies in the hands of the Hatfields and the McCoys.
However, it’s clear a negotiated settlement is what Manfred is desperately seeking.
If that’s truly what he wants, I’d advise he take a different approach than “well maybe we’ll just cancel the season.”