SAN DIEGO -- Commissioner Rob Manfred took a contentious stance Wednesday at the winter meetings when addressing the owners' plan to eliminate 42 minor league teams, in the name of what he said would be better facilities, travel arrangements and pay for minor league players.
Although major league owners successfully lobbied Congress last year to exempt baseball from federal minimum wage laws, arguing in part that higher wages could force the closure of minor league teams, the league now proposes to close teams anyway.
Manfred suggested there is room to compromise.
"Obviously," he said, "there is a way to pay people more without reducing the number of franchises."
He said the owners' plan was "by no means a fait accompli." He said MLB was willing to negotiate but said minor league owners have taken what he called "a take-it-or-leave-it, status quo approach" by refusing to consider funding ballpark upgrades, or to address aging ballparks that might be beyond feasible renovations.
Minor league owners have been vocal in their opposition to the MLB plan, and Congress has stood with them. More than 100 members of Congress have signed letters to Manfred urging him to back off.
Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told the Los Angeles Times last week he wants Manfred to commit to retaining all the minor league teams targeted for elimination, not pursue a compromise that might save some teams while killing others.
"I think some of the activities that have been undertaken by the leadership of Minor League Baseball have been polarizing in terms of the relationship with the owners," Manfred said.
"I think they've done damage to the relationship with Major League Baseball, and I'm hopeful that we will be able to work through that damage in the negotiating room and reach a new agreement. You know, when people publicly attack a longtime partner after they've committed to confidentiality in the negotiating process, usually people don't feel so good about that."
Said Pat O'Conner, president of Minor League Baseball: "There is no question the relationship has been damaged, but who is ultimately responsible is a matter of opinion."