Oh dear, this isn’t good. On Thursday, the Cleveland Indians placed lockdown reliever Brad Hand on outright waivers. Hand had a team option for $10 million on his current contract, which is a more than reasonable price tag for a pitcher of Hand’s caliber. Why would the Indians place an essential part of their bullpen, a pitcher for whom they traded one of the very best prospects in the game at the time, on waivers instead of shopping him? Or just buying him out? Or- heaven forbid- picking up the option and enjoying another year of top-notch relief production?
The answers are simple- Indians’ management are refusing to spend money. They’re even refusing to spend the comparatively paltry $1 million required to just buy out Hand’s contract. By running him through waivers, there’s a great chance that a team whose executives actually want to win will pick him up. If that happens, the Indians are off the hook for the buyout. All it cost them was one of their best relievers (and, indirectly, one of their best prospects).
This move is gross. It’s a craven, cynical cost-cutting measure that proves for the thousandth time that the overwhelming majority of MLB owners will always put their bottom lines before the well-being of their teams, and it’s only going to get worse from here. There’s already been quite a bit of friction between the league and its players in recent years, mostly instigated by the glacial 2017-18 and 2018-19 offseasons (remember when MLB had to open a separate spring camp for all the unsigned free agents in 2018?). The Player’s Union recently filed a grievance against four teams over a lack of spending. Tensions are high.
The League and the Future
This move from the Indians does not bode well for labor relations or quality of play come 2021. Already the Atlanta Braves, a team that came one win away from a National League pennant in 2020, have declined reliever Darren O’Day‘s $3.5 million club option in favor of a $500,000 buyout. O’Day struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings on his way to a transcendent 1.10 ERA over his 16 1/3 innings. Just about any team would kill to have a knockout pitcher like him on their roster, especially come playoff time. A team like Atlanta, whose lack of pitching depth ultimately doomed their title run in 2020, cutting one of their very best relievers to save a couple million dollars is absolutely nauseating.
The standard comeback to this point, that the eternal fight between MLB players and MLB owners, is: “The players are already making more than I’ll ever see in my life! Why should I care about a bunch of millionaires taking more money from a bunch of billionaires?” There are several handy retorts to this particular half-baked anti-labor cliche, the most effective being that not many MLB players are millionaires. Every major leaguer today was a minor leaguer yesterday, and minor leaguers are paid below subsistence wages (there’s currently a class-action lawsuit against MLB taking place in which a collection of current and former minor leaguers are suing MLB over claims of below-minimum wage pay. If you want to read more about this suit from an actual law person, check out this article from Sheryl Ring over at FanGraphs).
You can also remind the straw man making this argument that a million seconds is roughly equivalent to twelve days. A period of a billion seconds is roughly thirty years.
Hey, unrelatedly, here’s a list of every MLB principal owner and their net worth. This list is from June, so it doesn’t account for Steve Cohen purchasing the Mets from the Wilpons. Apart from that, however, everything’s up to date. Look at all those billions!
It’s impossible to check the MLB Trade Rumors headlines during a given offseason these days and not be reminded of an infamous quote from former MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, when he was addressing MLB owners during a meeting regarding the 1985 World Series:
“Let’s say I sat each of you down in front of a red button and a black button. Push the red button and you’d win the world series but lose $10 million. push the black button and you would make $4 million but finish somewhere in the middle. the problem is, most of you would push the red one.”
Baseball is almost certain to experience some bitter lockouts following the 2021 season and the expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, especially if more Brad Hand-esque cuts take place and good players stagnate on the free agent market into next season Dallas Keuchel-style. Commissioner Rob Manfred has already demonstrated that he is solidly opposed to MLB players earning what they deserve after months of dishonest, bad-faith negotiations with the MLBPA over the length of the 2020 season. Manfred will always side with his owners and against his players. Hopefully the MLBPA can put up a serious fight in the lockouts to come.
Major League Baseball is staring down a long and bumpy road. Only time will tell how they choose to navigate it.