The silly season didn’t get a gradual beginning this year. Oh, no, it went straight to hardcore mode. Nowhere is that more obvious than the players’ union executive director, Tony Clark, starting an investigation into statements made by Alex Anthopoulos during a conference call with the media. I’ll get to why the investigation isn’t completely unwarranted, but Clark’s description truly is ridiculous. Though Anthopoulos would do Clark a solid and apologize for misspeaking, it takes a Leap-To-Conclusion map to think what Clark wants us to believe about the statements.
So, what exactly was said? Here is the quote that began the uproar.
“Every day you get more information. And we’ve had time to connect with 27 of the clubs — obviously the Astros and [Nationals] being in the World Series, they were tied up — but we had a chance to get a sense of what the other clubs are going to look to do in free agency, who might be available in trades.”
If you re-read it a couple of times trying to find, in Clark’s words, “the clear description of Club coordination,” you’re not alone. To me, all I’m truly hearing is that Anthopoulos was trying to get a sense of what teams’ offseason plans might be. Are they looking to spend a bunch of money to upgrade their team? Are they looking to trade for depth? Maybe shed some salary and players by trading them for prospects? This is sort of one of the main jobs of a general manager.
But Clark and the players’ union seem to disagree. As Dan Szymborski said, “you really have to read Anthopoulos’s quotes in the worst possible way for them to get to egregious ‘clear description of Club coordination.'”
For his part, Anthopoulos has already apologized. The Braves general manager said, “In advance of the General Managers meetings, I called around to Clubs to explore the possibility of potential off-season trades. At no time during any of these calls was there discussion of individual free agents or the Braves’ intentions with respect to the free agent market. To the extent I indicated otherwise during my media availability on Monday, I misspoke and apologize for any confusion.”
There are a couple of issues at play here.
The first is fairly simple in nature. According to just about anyone in the game, and in stark contrast to his predecessor, John Coppolella, Alex Anthopoulos is a high-integrity guy. Beyond the litany of statements around the time he was hired as GM, the response by multiple figures in the baseball journalist fraternity after the MLBPA’s attempts to go after Anthopoulos has been nearly universal. Most disagree that there is a clear description of collusion hidden in any of the words of Anthopoulos’ previous statement. With someone of more questionable character, you might be tempted to side with the MLBPA or, at the bare minimum, kind of sit this one out. In this case, Anthopoulos is highly respected and not an easy target for the MLBPA here.
But the other thing is maybe that this isn’t really about Anthopoulos. That seems absurd since the “investigation” is directed toward what he said, but let me paint you a picture. If you were the leader of the player’s union during the writing and ratifying of a collective bargaining agreement that ultimately looked great for owners – though club chefs are really cool – and saw salaries remain stagnant, you might be a little on edge about the idea of collusion. You’ve become a punchline. Players are publicly complaining about the system. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel couldn’t find jobs until well into the season.
Now, here comes Alex Anthopoulos making a loose, largely innocuous remark about judging what other teams’ offseason plans may be. He made just enough of a connection to potential collusion that you can pull a trigger for an all-out investigation and be on the attack. It makes you look good to your union. We all want a bulldog fighting for us, not someone who has looked overmatched at the bargaining table as Clark looked during the last CBA talks.
How bad has Clark looked exactly? Well, he looks less like Marvin Miller and more like your neighbor, Marvin. Oh, Marvin is a good guy. His yard is always tidy and he respects your property. He even let you borrow his post-hole diggers a few years back. Every now and then, he mentions it, but you both know he’s not going to force you to give them back.
But now, Clark gets to save face and look a little more like Marvin Miller. I don’t think there is strong evidence for club collusion – period – and there definitely isn’t in Anthopoulos’ statement to the media. That said, I do understand the impulse to come out strong. It says to baseball owners and front offices, “we are watching you.” It also says they are willing to fight over anything – even what seems like a nothing burger.
And just to be fair, I’m not even completely against the idea of Anthopoulos being investigated here just to firm up exactly what he was talking about. While I think the interpretation that he was confirming or even eluding to collusion is bupkis, Anthopoulos probably shouldn’t have been so loose with his descriptions. It’s like how the team handled the Ronald Acuña Jr. mess coming out of spring training in 2018. They couldn’t admit that they were sending him to the minors for team control reasons even if we all knew that they were. There are some things you simply cannot say.
It’s perfectly fine for general managers to say something like, “yeah, we think we’re focused on free agency to fill the rotation for right now,” when talking to another general manager. And that’s what it sounds like Anthopoulos almost certainly was hearing or saying himself during these talks with other teams. But you probably shouldn’t tell the media that.
Because, right now, there is a players’ union that is very angry. And they should be! They got little appeasements in the last CBA rather than fundamental changes that would have aided them moving forward. And I don’t blame them for investigating Anthopoulos here. But to say that there is a “clear description of Club coordination” is simply utter nonsense. It turns the whole thing into a circus and Clark looks worse as a result.
But hey, we almost made it two whole years without an investigation into our general manager. That’s something, right?