What did they know and when did they know it?
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, and the entire Office of the Commissioner it seems, got caught in a lie on Wednesday about whether they knew of plans by new Marlins ownership to drastically slash payroll before the new ownership was approved by the league.
The unraveling of Manfred’s attempt at deniability began Wednesday morning in an interview with ESPN’s Dan Le Batard, during which things got scrappy fast. In the interview, Manfred discussed his office’s alleged knowledge (or lack of knowledge, as it were) of the plans by the new Marlins ownership group to drastically slash their salary commitments moving forward. That assertion was denied hours later by a report in The Miami Herald, and now it seems that Manfred has some ‘splainin to do when it comes to what he actually knew and why he publicly denied it.
After multiple opening volleys (one of which included Le Batard saying that things were starting with a lie based on Manfred’s opening answers), the commissioner said “We do not ... WE DO NOT ... get involved in operating level decisions in the ownership process.”
But that wasn’t the question he was posed, and instead of letting him skirt around answering on a technicality, Le Batard continued to push for a simple yes or no answer when it comes to whether the commissioner’s office was so much as aware of the salary plans in Miami, not whether they approved which players are going to be traded.
Manfred finally gave an exasperated “no” and insisted that the first payroll plan from the new Marlins ownership group arrived at the league a mere two days ago.
Le Batard insisted “you know what the money is, you know what Jeter has ... you know the dollar amounts” and continued to try and get Manfred to give him a direct answer about whether he was aware of the payroll-slashing sale — that a “dismantling” was coming — and Manfred circles back to the fact he was presented with a plan that was committed to providing “winning baseball” eventually.
In a hugely condescending manner, Manfred explains that they explored the financial wherewithal of the group and interviewed the new ownership group to understand how it was going to run the club before it was approved but denied knowing about any payroll-slashing goals before the approval.
However, later on Wednesday, a source texted the Miami Herald with the following information from the bidding process.
“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.”
[We’re going to take a quick pause here and focus on one specific detail from this report.
Project. Wolverine. PROJECT WOLVERINE?! They actually named a strategic ownership plan PROJECT WOLVERINE.
Nothing has ever done so much to convince me that Derek Jeter fashions himself a baseball superhero than naming a salary plan Project Freakin’ Wolverine. He definitely dresses up as an X-Men character at home and pretends to fight crime when he should be paying attention to running the team he just bought. Update: Yes, I am aware Jeter is a Michigan Man even though he never actually attended or played for Michigan, I just try not to talk about Michigan sports whenever possible. Carry on!]
Okay, back to the real story. In the Le Batard interview, Manfred also said,
“You have no idea what I care about and don’t care about. A competitive club in each one of our 30 markets is a foremost concern.”
According to this Herald report, one thing he apparently doesn’t care about is a fanbase getting a rebuild that actually has a goal besides “spend as little money as possible“ and maintaining transparency in how the league approves new ownership groups, as well as how much weight is given to those groups’ plans for their new baseball toy.
Some are going a step further and positing that this report could also have laid out exactly which players would be on the trade docket first, which would then give other teams even more of a competitive advantage than just knowing about the general cuts, but there’s no evidence that that is the case right now.
But even the fact that it was widely circulated meant teams could plan their offseasons around a Marlins fire sale and act accordingly with trades and free agent signings. Jeter may have publicly shown his cards when it came to the salary cuts in regards to the Giancarlo Stanton trade, but now it looks like every team knew what was coming down the line on a large scale before Stanton was ever officially available.
This Marlins rebuild is already a huge mess — see the Marcell Ozuna trade and this week’s town hall meeting if you need more evidence to that point — but now it’s spilling over and affecting MLB’s credibility as well. And Manfred lying to Le Batard on the air isn’t helping them look any better right now.