CARLSBAD, Calif. — The outdoor patio, lobby and restaurants are still flooded with agents and baseball executives during the day, and they migrate to the hotel bar at night.
To explore potential trades, secret meetings are taking place between teams. Agents have been calling to see if their clients are interested in trading. MLB general managers are being contacted by MLB executives to discuss future rules changes.
But even in the bright skies of San Diego there is a dark cloud overhead.
In exactly three weeks, baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires, threatening to shut down the entire industry.
Major League Baseball can invoke a lockout if there is no agreement by Dec. 1 at 11:59 PM. This could stop all trading activity and free agent signings. It may also prevent players from accessing their gym facilities.
It’s virtually impossible to find anyone who really believes the 2022 season will be delayed, let alone the postponement of a single regular-season game, but no one knows what the new rules will look like in the next deal.
The luxury tax will remain at $210million, but could it be reduced to $180million? For teams that lose free agents, will draft picks be compensated? When players turn 29, will they be eligible to free agency? Is the salary arbitration system as it is now still in place? The playoff field will be increased from the current 10 to 14 teams. Teams will be required to maintain a minimum of $100 million in payroll.
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There are so many questions and only so few answers.
Yet, when canvassing general managers throughout the land at the annual general managers’ meetings, you can’t find a soul who’s stressing over the uncertainty.
Almost on cue, they’ll blurt out, “Business as usual.’’
The Oakland A’s shouted to the world Tuesday that no one is off limits as they slash payroll. Detroit Tigers have announced that they will spend again. New York Yankees can cross the luxury tax barrier with flexibility. New York Mets feel confident that they will be able to find a GM who is willing and able to relocate to New York. In their quest to break the longest drought of playoffs in North American sports, Seattle Mariners are going all out. Los Angeles Angels is looking for pitchers. Milwaukee Brewers is looking for offense. And the Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t going to sweat the tax ramifications of their final $282.7 million payroll.
It’s what you call labor wars. GMs refer to it as neighbor lore.
The offseason is here, but GMs are refusing to allow you to see them sweat.
“I can’t let those things affect me,’’ Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said. “We are focused on how do we make our team better. We’re playing within the same parameters that we’ve always played in.
“We’re engaged in free agents. We’re engaged in trade discussions. We’ll push forward. This is our way of operating. We tend to move pretty quickly, and that part of our personality likely isn’t going to change.
“This is what we do.”
It’s no different small market to large market, rich to poor, East to West, North to South, anyone and everyone was echoing the same refrain.
“We have the utmost confidence in the commissioner, the MLB offices, to get something done,” Angels GM Perry Minasian said. “Obviously, his track record shows that. Everybody wants to do something.
“Until someone tells me something has changed, it’s business as usual.”
Said Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins, who is hoping to re-sign free agents Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray: “You know what, it feels like business as usual. There’s exceptionally positive dialogue. These are great exchanges. I don’t feel any tension.
“It doesn’t surprise me if you think about the historic evidence of getting deals done and finding ways to bridge gaps. It’s a good feeling. “I have confidence in many of the leaders.”
Cleveland Guardians president Chris Antonetti said: “Nothing feels different yet. Everyone has the optimism to continue on in our unabated progress as over 25 years.
Maybe the presidents of clubs and GMs should have put on brave fronts so their supporters know they can buy season tickets. Corporate sponsors will be happy investing in their team, while players believe.
Even if mayhem seems imminent, it’s not a good idea to sound alarms.
“You’ve got to be optimistic,” Tigers GM Al Avila said. “Why think otherwise?”
And, if you’re not a believer and convinced a work stoppage is coming, you might want to act a little more quickly.
“Some people might feel like they want to be a little more aggressive early on,” Chicago White Sox vice president Ken Williams said. “You’ve got to determine and make your decisions based on whatever you are, your comfort level, what your targets are, and not with regards to anything else that might accelerate your thinking to a point where it’s not sound thinking.”
The uncertainty could be most damaging to the teams that flirted this year with luxury taxes, such as the Yankees, Houston Astros, and Philadelphia Phillies.
It left Phillies president Dave Dombrowski saying he won’t tip his hand on his budget, but he “doesn’t find it restrictive.” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said, “I have some latitude.’’ And Astros GM James Click reminded everyone that the competitive balance tax “is not a hard cap.”
The GMs realize know there will be a deal at some point, and whether an agreement is reached by Dec. 1, Feb. 1 or April 1, they know they better be prepared.
“You just can’t anticipate what will or won’t happen so just take care of what you have to take care of,” Williams said.
“That’s all any of us can do.”
Follow Bob Nightengale Twitter @Bnightengale