Rob Manfred made an empty threat against Oakland

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Well, I hope you’re sitting down for this. It’s some real heavy stuff. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has threatened the city of Oakland. Saying the team could move to Las Vegas wasn’t enough: now the league is preparing to impose sanctions. In addition to claiming the A’s won’t be forced to pay relocation fees should they need to move, now Manfred has said if Oakland doesn’t give in and hand the A’s the stadium deal they’re looking for, so help them MLB is going to take away the A’s revenue-sharing dollars in 2024. May God have mercy on their souls.

If you can’t tell by all the ham above, this is some real goofy, empty threatening here, even my MLB commissioner standards. Neil deMause already covered quite a bit of the emptiness of it all at Field of Schemes, so you should read that, but I’ll grab a choice quote all the same:

First off, the A’s cut of revenue-sharing money — which is a special pool of league funds that gets redistributed to lower-revenue teams to make up for the New York Yankees and their ilk hogging all the local cable money — isn’t like some time-honored revenue stream that is now under threat: They were phased out of it starting in 2016, after complaints from other owners that a team in a top-four TV market shouldn’t be getting league money meant for small-market teams, then only got back in the revenue-sharing pool in the new CBA this March. And this time it came with that stadium caveat, presumably to placate other owners that, okay, sure, we’re taking a cut of your profits and giving them to A’s billionaire owner John Fisher, but only because he’s promised that this time he’s really building a new stadium, which hopefully will increase team revenues to the point where he won’t be eligible for revenue-sharing anyway!

And, as deMause pointed out, this is really a threat against the A’s owner, John Fisher, more than the city of Oakland. Though, I guess the point Manfred and the rest of the MLB owners who would happily rip the revenue-sharing away from the A’s that plenty of them already regret giving back are trying to make is that if Oakland doesn’t play ball, the ball the A’s play will be worse. Want the A’s to try again? Well give them the stadium deal in the exact shape they’re throwing a years-long tantrum over, then!

It’s funny, though, because there’s just no proof that the revenue-sharing dollars the A’s do receive are going anywhere besides into Fisher’s pockets, or the pockets of minority owners, basically everyone’s pockets except for those of A’s players. Let’s rewind to March, when a new collective bargaining agreement was signed and it turned out that the A’s would be getting revenue-sharing again as part of that. How did they respond to this news? By trading everyone making money on the club and raising ticket prices, naturally. Matts Chapman and Olson were both dealt, as were Sean Manaea and, eventually, Frankie Montas. That was a little over $40 million off the books for 2022, which left the A’s with payroll of $48 million. After signing shortstop Aledmys Díaz this week, they’re now projected to spend around $38 million for their Opening Day payroll in 2023. There’s a lot of offseason left, sure, but consider the subject matter here, and the possibility that any additions made to the roster could be balanced out by subtractions.

And let’s not forget that all of this occurred coming off of an 86-76 2021 that was a win worse than their expected record based on their run differential, and that the postseason expanded by two teams for 2022. The A’s could have added pieces without even spending $100 million total, paid for the extra with revenue-sharing dollars, and likely made the postseason — the Rays took the third wild card in 2022 with a record of — wait for it — 86-76. Instead, the A’s sold, sold, sold, and went 60-102.

“The A’s could have spent revenue-sharing dollars to add players” is also not a new thing for them: the Players Association has an active grievance out against the club for failing to use those dollars the way they’re intended to be used. While the grievance over the pandemic-shortened 2020 season was dropped as part of the CBA agreed to this spring, the ones against the A’s, Rays, Pirates, and Marlins were not. And it’s not like evidence of the A’s wrongdoing is going to be very difficult to find once that actually gets in front of an arbitrator, not when you’ve got other MLB clubs (rightfully) anonymously whining about the A’s behavior to the press:

“The idea of revenue sharing is not to make money, it’s to field a competitive team,” one rival owner complained Thursday during the owners’ meetings at MLB headquarters in Midtown. “That money is supposed to go toward player salaries. [The A’s] took the money and put it in their pocket.”

Yet another owner, also upset that the A’s didn’t use the money to buy new players, but instead did the opposite and sold three major stars and drastically cut their payroll, referred to the franchise generally as “a mess.”

So, what’s the threat here, exactly? There’s nothing here that should worry the city of Oakland. John Fisher and the A’s know the score, so it’s not like Manfred was secretly chastising them in public, especially since the league fully supports their quest to bully/annoy Oakland into giving them exactly what they’re demanding. If anything, it’s just reminding the world that this new loophole exists, that Fisher is being handed free checks by the league to make up for the lack of a gate to collect that his own behaviors have caused. Which surely wasn’t Manfred’s goal, but that’s where we’ve gotten to, anyway.

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