Is MLB Headed Toward Another Work Stoppage?

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Is MLB Headed Toward Another Work Stoppage?
Feb 5, 2019

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Before pitchers, catchers and reporters head to spring training, some of the best in the business stopped by the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism to discuss the question on everybody’s mind: Why hasn’t a team signed top free-agents Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

“What I think is happening is that we have a new breed of general manager, who is young, ivy-league educated, brilliant, remorseless, bloodless, emotionless and they don’t care about anything other than the value system that they have in place,” ESPN baseball analyst and Maryland alum Tim Kurkjian said during a panel hosted by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism Feb. 4.

Kurkjian was joined by Baltimore Sun Orioles beat reporter Jon Meoli and best-selling author Jane Leavy on a panel moderated by Povich director George Solomon.

Kurkjian said the reason so many talented players remain on the market is because the GMs have a number they believe each player is worth, and they refuse to bend on that value.

“If you don’t fit into the number of years and the amount of money that they think you are worth, then you are not going to get signed,” Kurkjian said. “I didn’t see it coming last year. I saw it coming to some degree this year. I figured Harper and Machado would be in a different category, but even they are now part of this. These GMs are saying, ‘I don’t care who you are. We can wait and wait and wait until we get the deal we want.’”

Meoli said the recent trend of waiting to sign players is also having an impact on the field. Last year, the Orioles waited until the end of March to sign right-hander Alex Cobb, and as a result, Cobb had to get ready on his own – without the help of spring training — and he struggled for much of the season.

“Some of the teams are going to find that they not only need to bite the bullet and spend this money, but they are going to get players who aren’t going to be at their best and then they are going to regret it even more,” Meoli said.

While none of the panelists believed collusion was the driving factor behind the change in contracts, they did agree that if things maintain the status quo, baseball is likely headed toward another work stoppage.

“We are totally out of control as far as salaries go, and this is why we’re headed for another work stoppage,” Kurkjian said. “… The players had better understand that this is the way it works now. I had a general manager tell me last year the days of a 32-year-old average player getting a four-year deal that pays him through age 36 — those days are over. They are never coming back.”

As for the million-dollar question of where will Harper end up? Leavy thinks he’s headed back to Washington.

If true, Kurkjian said Nationals fans have reason to be very optimistic.

“If Harper comes back, they are the best team in the division,” Kurkjian said.

Homepage image: from left to right George Solomon, Tim Kurkjian, Jon Meoli and Jane Leavy (Alex Pyles/Phillip Merrill College of Journalism)

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