Tom Werner provides possible preview of owners' arguments in likely contentious CBA negotiations

Alex Reimer
February 18, 2019 - 12:09 pm

Red Sox chairman Tom Werner acknowledged Monday on “Mut & Callahan” there are tensions between the owners and players heading into MLB’s upcoming collective bargaining negotiations. One of the biggest issues is the maddening stagnation of the free agency market, which is the reason why Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Craig Kimbrel –– along with roughly two dozen other accomplished vets –– remain unsigned one week into Spring Training. 

When asked about the dilemma, Werner said he would prefer to see Harper and Machado in camp, but wouldn’t admit teams are purposefully holding back from spending on free agents. Werner’s words echoed commissioner Rob Manfred’s comments on the matter Sunday, indicating the owners have their disingenuous talking points already in order.

“Last year, if you started Spring Training and said, ’There are these teams that don’t want to win,’ you probably would’ve picked the Oakland A’s, the Rays,’” Werner said in his interview with M&C and John Tomase. “These teams were competitive all year. Obviously, they don’t have the resources of the Boston Red Sox, but every owner I talk to wants to win, and they’re trying to figure out how to do it.”

Words are different than actions, of course. Marlins president Derek Jeter can say he has "no patience" for losing, but trading away Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and J.T. Realmuto indicates Jeter has quite an appetite for losing, actually. 

Manfred also referenced the A’s and Rays when telling reporters how he’s the only person in the world who doesn’t equate spending money to trying to win. He scorned MLBPA head Tony Clark for his 2018 grievance that claimed the A’s, Rays, Pirates and Marlins weren’t spending enough of their revenue-sharing money on payroll.

“The assertion that teams aren’t trying started last spring training with Tony Clark singling out four teams,” Manfred said, per USA Today. “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.”

What Werner and Manfred leave out, is the Rays and A’s are outliers. In baseball, there is a direct correlation between spending money and sustained success. And right now, few teams are spending money. ESPN’s Jeff Passan calculates 60 percent of teams are featuring payrolls $50 million below the first luxury tax threshold of $206 million. Roughly half of the clubs are $75 million below the figure and eight teams are more than $100 million under. Only three players have signed contracts this offseason for four years or longer. 

Deep down, Werner knows teams must spend to win and bring fans to the ballpark. The Red Sox have consistently been a top-five payroll team since the start of John Henry’s ownership, and will carry the highest payroll in the American League for the second straight year.

In a $10 billion industry, owners are spending less money on player payroll, even as revenue increases. Werner mentioned numerous times the players and owners are partners. Those numbers indicate one side isn’t holding up its end of the deal.