What we learned from Rob Manfred's tough Le Batard interview about the Marlins
Manfred appeared on Le Batard's Miami-based radio show on Wednesday
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Wednesday made an appearance on Dan LeBatard's show on ESPN Radio. Le Batard is of course based in Miami, and one day after Marlins and their ongoing teardown -- a teardown that thus far has seen NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton and fellow outfielder Marcell Ozuna shipped off for dubious returns. Below is the interview in full, which as you'll hear got fairly contentious at points ..., the topic was the
And now let's hit some high points and what we took away from the interview ...
Manfred said he didn't know that the Marlins' new owners planned to tear it down
In the early moments of the interview, Le Batard asked Manfred whether he knew prior to the recent sale to the group fronted by Bruce Sherman and Jeter whether the new owners planned to slash payroll. After some prodding (and Le Batard's saying that the commissioner was lying), Manfred answered, "We do not get involved in operating-level decisions in the ownership approval process."
"We did not have player-specific plans from the Miami Marlins or any other team that has been in the ownership process. Those are decisions that the individual owners make, and they do not have to be cleared by us or approved by us. ... Those are local decisions that really are not part of the approval process. Those are decisions that the individual owners make, and they do not have to be cleared with us or approved by us."
Manfred went on to say that he didn't receive a payroll plan from the Marlins until two days prior to his interview with Le Batard. More: "We don't get into, are you going to trade 'Player X' or 'Player Y' at a particular point in time, nor do we ask them to make a commitment to people before they even got in and made an evaluation of their talent level, their ability to win with the people that they have. That's just not how the ownership process works."
But some of that may not be true
Here's a key excerpt from a must-read Barry Jackson piece in the Miami Herald:
A source directly involved in the Marlins sales process, after hearing the Le Batard interview, said, via text: "Commissioner said was not aware of [Jeter] plan to slash payroll. Absolutely not true. They request and receive the operating plan from all bidders.
"Project Wolverine [the name for Jeter's plan] called on his group to reduce payroll to $85 million. This was vetted and approved by MLB prior to approval by MLB. Every [Jeter] investor and non investor has the Wolverine financial plan of slashing payroll to $85 million. Widely circulated."
First off, "Project Wolverine" is ludicrously self-important and sinister-sounding, as budget strategies go. That's the name of a secret NSA laboratory deep under the Caballo Mountains in New Mexico, not a financial schematic. Do better, Jeets. Anyhow, there's enough careful phrasing in Manfred's comments ("operating-level decisions," "'Player X' or 'Player Y'") to give him some plausible deniability. However, the idea that he didn't know about plans to engage in yet another demo job by Marlins owners strains credulity.
Here's what Manfred said goes into the ownership approval process
Throughout the interview, Le Batard, tacitly or otherwise, referred to Jeter as the owner. He is indeed the team's CEO, he recently confirmed that he has final approval over player personnel decisions, and he's indeed part of the ownership group. Sherman, though, is the lead owner in terms of investment. Speaking of himself and the 29 other owners with regard to this process, Manfred said:
"They approved a group headed by Bruce Sherman, OK, number one. Number two, just like in every other ownership transfer, we examined the financial wherewithal of the group; we made sure that the governance structure of the partnership was consistent with our rules; and we had interviews with the people who were running the club to get a general understanding of their approach to running the club. Everyone that was involved in that process, including me, was convinced that this group is committed to winning baseball in South Florida over the long haul."
As for the Sherman group's reportedly spotty finances ...
(Via ESPN, here's more of the conversation not captured in the video above.) Manfred disputed Le Batard's characterization, which is fully in keeping with reams of reporting on the Sherman-Jeter purchase. Manfred stated that the group's debt levels remained the same pre-purchase to post-purchase (this isn't to say their debt levels were ideal pre-purchase), and twice said that the purchase constituted "the single largest commitment of equity ever in the history of the game."
OK, that's probably true. However, the Marlins are the first team sold since the Dodgers and Padres back in 2012. MLB franchises appreciate at an incredible rate, especially in recent history, and that's a lot of inflation built in. Basically, he's saying the Marlins new owners paid more cash for their $1.3-ish billion purchase than the Dodgers owners did for their $2 billion purchase (the only higher-priced sale in MLB history) six years ago. That's notable, sure, but it's not exactly amazing. Citing it also doesn't prove the Sherman group has sound finances at the moment.
Manfred appeared to validate "tanking"
Tanking of course is when a team trades away its veterans for long-term assets and in doing so positions itself to lose often, thus netting high draft picks and high bonus pools. It's a perfectly rational approach in a cold-eyed sense -- the last two World Series champs, for instance, both benefited from tanking -- but it's not a particularly popular one with fans. So here's what Manfred told Le Batard (somewhat unprompted) about that very subject ...
"The strategy that, apparently, the Marlins have adopted is one that is tried and true in baseball. I'm not saying it's without pain. As a matter of fact, I think the fans in Houston endured some bad seasons. But it was a process that ultimately produced a winner, and that process is really dominant in terms of the thinking in our game right now, in terms, particularly, of smaller markets' ability to win."
Again, it's a sensible approach as long as you don't take the "competitive morals" element into account. Still, to hear a commissioner in essence give his blessing to tanking is a bit jarring.
There's more, but consider the above a walking tour of what many will say was a compelling and occasionally vehement discussion.
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