Red Sox

Ownership puppet Rob Manfred can't even pretend MLB's players matter

Ownership puppet Rob Manfred can't even pretend MLB's players matter

Last Wednesday, Rob Manfred 100 percent guaranteed baseball would return in 2020. Five days later he declared the season on life support while tugging forlornly at the plug.

Watching baseball's leader flail like Manny Ramirez chasing a pop-up, an obvious question springs to mind: Just whose commissioner is he, anyway?

Don't worry, that's rhetorical.

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Manfred serves at the pleasure of the owners, who hired him and pay his salary, but his name will go down in the history books if there's no season, just as his predecessor, Bud Selig, must wear the ignominy of the 1994 strike, the 2002 All-Star Game tie, and the Steroid Era. (Then again, he still made the Hall of Fame, because nobody fails up like a billionaire).

Manfred's willingly steering this ship into the ground at the behest of cost-conscious owners when there's another constituency that deserves a say in the game's future — you know, the guys who actually play — and it's jarring to hear how little concern he can muster on behalf of the players during this detestable saga.

He's their commissioner, too, but you wouldn't know it from his rhetoric.

His primary motivation with Monday's scare quotes seems to be bullying the players into not filing a grievance when the owners impose their worthless 50-game season. That makes Manfred baseball's version of Mitch McConnell, more concerned with protecting the Koch brothers from lawsuits than doing right by the American people.

He's also the dog that eats the owners' table scraps, but it's worth noting that commissioners didn't always play the role of subservient hound. Many of us are old enough to remember a commissioner who acted in the best interest of the sport, and all it got him was a spot next to Jimmy Hoffa somewhere under the Meadowlands.

Fay Vincent approached the job like his mentor and predecessor, the great Bart Giamatti. He sided with the players after the owners colluded to limit free agent spending from 1985-87, and he helped raise the minimum salary above $100,000 for the first time in 1990.

As Vice noted in a retrospective on his firing, "Vincent's fatal flaw as commissioner was his penchant for acting in the interests of fairness rather than the interests of his employers." The owners viewed the players and particularly the union as a nemesis to be crushed. Vincent treated them as a partner.

That was never going to fly in the Hamptons retreats and on the mega-yachts of the game's owners, so they conducted a vote of no-confidence in 1992 and forced Vincent out, replacing him with one of their own. Selig was supposed to serve on an interim basis, but he ended up holding the job for 22 years, only one fewer than he had owned the Brewers while overseeing just two playoff berths.

Manfred first worked with MLB, appropriately enough, in 1987, when the owners were winding down their collusive efforts in the face of multiple grievances. He joined the league full-time in 1998 and was long groomed as Selig's successor.

Now he's in the center of a storm bigger than any his old boss ever faced.

The pandemic has savaged the bottom line and forced all sports to confront the reality of playing in empty stadiums. Baseball seemed primed to lead the return and negotiations started amicably with the March deal of prorated pay in exchange for full service time. The sides never clearly articulated what would happen without fans, which is why we're here today.

The owners have tried to prevail via sleight of hand, however, offering a series of deals that end in the same place: with the players earning about a third of their original salaries. The easiest way for the owners to get there is simply to play 50 games, fully prorated. The only problem is, they're supposed to be negotiating in good faith, and that's a hard case to make if they just unilaterally impose the shortened schedule before the calendar mandates it.

So they're stalling. Except Manfred screwed that up when he announced at the draft that a season would be played. The players called his bluff, with union chief Tony Clark declaring, "It's time to get back to work. Tell us where and when."

Now the league is in a box. If it declares martial law now, the players can make a much stronger case in any possible grievance. If it drags this out for another week or two, the sport will continue to be hammered like a deposed dictator.

Meanwhile, Manfred shows no interest in representing the product on the field. The game's popularity, such as it is, still resides with the players, and by siding so completely with the owners, Manfred is spitting in the face of superstars like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Christian Yelich. If I were Betts, I'd play one game to get my service time, ensure free agency, and then call it a season. The owners barely want to play this year, anyway.

While the NBA's Adam Silver demonstrates what an actual partnership looks like by involving the players in a possible summer return, Manfred retreats to ownership's bunker and awaits instructions.

Meanwhile the players grow more unified, the owners become the clear villains, and the sport suffers irreparable harm.

Whoever's best interests Manfred is serving, this much is clear — they're not his own.

Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

When it comes to Red Sox prospects, there's a new No. 1 in town, and considering how he was acquired, that's probably a good thing.

Middle infielder Jeter Downs is now Boston's No. 1 prospect, according to rankings released by MLB.com on Tuesday. He displaces former No. 1 pick Triston Casas, a power-hitting first baseman who dropped to second.

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Downs and Casas are the only two Red Sox prospects who cracked MLB Pipeline's overall top 100, checking in at 48th and 83rd, respectively.

Downs wasn't even a member of the organization until February, when he arrived from the Dodgers in the reworked Mookie Betts trade. While outfielder Alex Verdugo was considered the centerpiece of that deal from a big league readiness perspective, Downs is exactly the kind of player the Red Sox hope to stock their farm system with in the coming years.

He broke out during his age-20 season in 2019, smashing 24 homers, stealing 24 bases, and ending the year in Double A. He just turned 22 and is considered a future big league second baseman, though he has played nearly 200 games in the minors at short.

Casas, meanwhile, possesses impressive power of his own, with 20 homers in the minors as a teenager. Still only 20, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder may not even be done growing, which makes him a potential power-hitting behemoth.

The rest of the top 10 shows a farm system in transition, and one that MLB ranked 26th in baseball. First baseman Bobby Dalbec is the No. 3 prospect, followed by right-hander Bryan Mata, outfielder Gilberto Jimenez, right-hander and Navy airman Noah Song, returning left-hander Jay Groome, outfielder Jarren Duran, and righthanders Thad Ward and Tanner Houck.

Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

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Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

Here at NBC Sports Boston, we like to run a segment on "Early Edition" and "Boston Sports Tonight" called "Buy or Sell," and from Chaim Bloom's perspective, the answer seems obvious — sell anything that isn't nailed down.

Except it's not that simple. Bloom's last-place Red Sox happen to reside in a flawed American League. If the season ended today, the Baltimore Orioles would claim the eighth and final playoff spot. The Orioles, in case you've forgotten, are terrible.

That's the sign of a garbage playoff system, but this is a garbage season. And before the Red Sox start filling any dumpsters, perhaps they should explore one.

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Huh? Hear me out.

The obvious course of action would be to strip the roster, and by the Aug. 31 deadline, that may be the only path available. But even after Monday night's 8-7 loss to the Rays, the 6-10 Red Sox are belatedly showing signs of life, and here's what I'd like to see before depressing the plunger: just one more stinking starter.

Maybe it's a prospect like Bryan Mata, even though the Red Sox have shown no inclination to promote one of their unproven minor leaguers. Maybe it's fireballing left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, who's being stretched out to open as he returns from a bout with COVID-19. Maybe it's another organization's castoff, though the Red Sox recently passed on former Braves All-Star Mike Foltynewicz.

With three weeks until the Aug. 31 trade deadline, the Red Sox trail the second-place Rays by 2.5 games. They're not going to pass anybody in the standings if they keep trotting out two openers every five days, three if you count right-hander Ryan Weber. Their bullpen simply can't handle it. They've used at least five pitchers 10 times in 16 games, and they've burned through 24 arms in their last four games alone.

That's how someone like Jeffrey Springs ends up pitching an inning that matters despite an ERA north of 13.00, as was the case on Monday, when he allowed the go-ahead runs in the seventh inning of a game he had no business being near, except manager Ron Roenicke couldn't risk running Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes into the ground.

If Bloom could find just one arm, we'd have a couple of weeks to see if the Red Sox can escape the basement. Thanks to an expanded playoff field, the top two teams in each division will advance, and when you're chasing the Orioles, let's just say you should like your chances.

As it is, it's not like a fire sale would net much in return. While the market for prospective free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. or struggling outfielder Andrew Benintendi is negligible, the Red Sox should be able at least to drum up interest in DH J.D. Martinez and closer Brandon Workman.

Martinez is a legitimate opt-out candidate this fall, provided he builds on Monday's three-hit performance, which included his first home run of 2020. Workman is a pending free agent, and a rebuilding club like the Red Sox has more pressing needs than a 32-year-old closer.

The problem is reading the market. While this season will technically end with someone hoisting a trophy, teams may not be willing to part with pieces of their future when contenders like the Cardinals have only played five games in three weeks because of outbreaks. There also may be hesitation to take on future salary when the economic landscape of 2021 remains so uncertain.

And so if you're Bloom and the return is going to be depressed, why not give this team a chance? Maybe Martinez finds his swing. Maybe Rafael Devers overcomes a foot injury and does the same. Maybe another pitcher eliminates an opener from the weekly probables.

There's value in fighting to make the playoffs, and as long as it doesn't harm the future, why not try?