“This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive,” Manfred opined in a letter to fans shortly after the lockout began. “It’s simply not a viable option.”
Expounding further during a press conference on Thursday morning, Manfred stated, “Things like a shortened reserve period, a $100 million reduction in revenue sharing, and salary arbitration for the whole two-year class are bad for the sport, bad for the fans, and bad for competitive balance.”
The three bargaining chips cited by Manfred are among the most coveted by the Players Association during negotiations, according to The Athletic’s Evan Drellich. (For those curious, ESPN's Jeff Passan outlined "the myriad issues being discussed" between the two sides in a recent column.) Despite his bold claims, the commissioner did not provide concrete evidence to back them up.
From an outsider’s perspective, it’s difficult to envision how the Players Association’s proposals would negatively impact the sport, competitive balance, or the fans, in particular. American professional baseball and the fans of MLB would not be impacted directly — and perhaps only indirectly with interventions such as slightly increased ticket and souvenir prices, though the impact would likely be marginal — by a reduction in revenue sharing between the owners. (However, as Passan discusses, decreased revenue sharing would likely negatively impact the owners of small market teams more than those in large markets, but, it should be noted, they're still billionaires.) A change to the arbitration process and a reduction in time before players reach free agency would only end up with them making more money, more quickly while having an opportunity to change teams earlier in their careers, potentially opening up a wider path to regular playing time in the Major Leagues.
In reality, the major changes the Players Association is seeking during negotiations would only negatively impact one entity, though it’s important to note that Manfred is technically an employee of said entity: the owners. As such, it shouldn’t be surprising that the commissioner framed the lockout in the way he ultimately did.
However, doing so, particularly by saying that the players’ demands are bad for the fans, is misleading at best, insulting at worst, and nonsensical overall. The fans of MLB will only be harmed — and even that is a dramatic way to describe the theoretical effects of the stoppage — if the lockout extends into Spring Training and the regular season, reducing the amount of games to take in.
Again, neither party is without fault for the current lockout, but Manfred’s framing of the bargaining chips getting played against the owners as a negative for the fan should not be taken with a grain of salt, but rather thrown away all together.