PHOENIX – Not that Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, is a momentous day in the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ franchise, this moment could mean a significant turn in the club’s affairs. That’s the day negotiations between management and the players apparently resumed in earnest but the prospect of a crippling lockout looms like a dark, ominous summer cloud.
While the Diamondbacks, like all teams, are an integral part of negotiations and outcomes, the fortunes of this team could be significant. That’s because Mike Hazen, the team’s general manager, tends to favor younger players whose immediate contract future he can control. Since assuming the GM’s position in the fall of 2016, Hazen has eschewed huge contracts and large paydays. Though he helped negotiate a 5-year, $85 million contract of lefthander Madison Bumgarner, Hazen likes to acquire players he can “control,” or those players who are years away from free agency.
Under the current deadlock and essential economic issues tend to be complicated, one area of negotiations to be resolved is more money for younger players. At the same time, those players who reach free-agency eligibility tend to land large contracts, depart “larger markets” for smaller “markets” and upset a fragile salary eco-system. Just before the lockout on Dec 2, several signed significant contracts, including Max Scherzer (Mets, 3-years, $139 mil), Wander Franco (Rays, 11-year, $182 mil), Kevin Gausman (Jays, 5-year, $110 mil), Javier Baez (Tigers, 6-year, $140 mil), Byron Buxton (Twins, 7-years, $100 mil), Robbie Ray (Mariners, 5-year, $115 mil), and Corey Seager (Rangers, 10-year, $325 mil).
Coming into the 2022 season, the Diamondbacks have several players in the $3 to $8 million range, including shortstop Nick Ahmed ($7,750 mil), second baseman Ketel Marte ($8 mil), outfielder David Peralta ($8 mil), closer Mark Melancon ($6 mil), pitcher Merrill Kelly ($5.250 mil), and catcher Carson Kelly ($3) mil). Bumgarner, who structured his contract for a $6 million salary for 2021, is now bumped considerably. He is scheduled to earn $23 million in 2022. Outside of Bumgarner, these are not terribly large numbers. Coming into the 2022 season, the Diamondbacks payroll is reported by spottac.com at $66.6 million, and only lower is Miami ($55.7 mil), Cleveland ($29 mil), Baltimore ($23,750 mil), and Pittsburgh ($21,450 mil).
In concert, the issue of revenue sharing is significant as is lowering the time of service in which a player becomes a free agent. To be fair, baseball is the only sport of the major four North American sports that does not have a salary cap and that is one fact commissioner Rob Manfred takes solace.
Perhaps the most overriding concern is the sheer factor of economics. For the past two seasons, owners lost revenue and fans. Against the third straight season of a decline in revenue, management faces a potential decrease in gate receipts and loss of viewership on television and social media platforms. In the shortened season of 2020, players were committed to championship play and gave their best effort. Clearly, both sides recognize the players are “the product.” Without their services, there is no game, and obviously no television revenue and team merchandise sales.
After the Jan. 13 negotiating session produced little progress, the gap appeared to widen. From the owner’s perspective, they remained hard-lined in what is considered core issues. No movement was reported on important questions, including revenue-sharing, an NBA-type lottery to help balance competition, a universal DH to include National League teams, and movement when players could declare free agency. All of which puts the start of spring training, only weeks away, in serious jeopardy.
Beginning on Jan. 14, the Diamondbacks announced spring training tickets were available for sale. At this point, the Diamondbacks are scheduled to open their spring slate on Sat. Feb. 26 against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Field. Also, the team announced that two spring games are scheduled for Las Vegas. Facing the Rockies, the games are slated for Friday night March 18, and Saturday afternoon March 19. Should the lockout stretch into March, these contests, as are all spring games, remain in peril.