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.
Teams are secretly meeting with each other to explore possible trades. Agents are calling around to gauge interest in their clients. MLB executives are speaking to general managers about future rule changes.
But, even under the sunny skies of San Diego, an ominous cloud hangs overhead.
In exactly three weeks, baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires, threatening to shut down the entire industry.
If no agreement is reached by 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1, Major League Baseball could invoke a lockout, halting all trade activity, free-agent signings, and even preventing players from using their workout 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.
Will the luxury tax remain at $210 million, or possibly be lowered to $180 million? Will there be draft pick compensation for teams losing free agents? Will every player be eligible for free agency when they turn 29 years old? Will the current salary arbitration system still exist? Will the playoff field be expanded from 10 teams to 14 teams? Will teams be required to have a minimum $100 million payroll?
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So many questions, 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. The Detroit Tigers announced they are going to spend again. The New York Yankees have flexibility to cross the luxury tax barrier. The New York Mets are confident they can find a GM who wants to live in New York. The Seattle Mariners will be aggressive in their bid to end the longest playoff drought in North American sports. The Los Angeles Angels are looking for pitching. The Milwaukee Brewers are looking for offense. And the Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t going to sweat the tax ramifications of their final $282.7 million payroll.
You call it labor wars; GMs call it neighbor lore.
The offseason has begun, and GMs refuse to let you 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 how we operate. 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. Everyone wants to get something done.
“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. Really good exchanges. Really, I feel no tension whatsoever.
“It doesn’t surprise me if you think about the historic evidence of getting deals done and finding ways to bridge gaps. It feels positive. I have a lot of confidence in the leadership on many levels."
Cleveland Guardians president Chris Antonetti said: “Nothing feels different yet. We all have that optimism we will continue to move on uninterrupted like we have the last 25 years."
Who knows, perhaps the GMs and club presidents were all advised to put on a brave front so that their fanbases know it's safe to buy season tickets, corporate sponsors are comfortable investing in their team and players have faith?
Then again, even if you believe mayhem is around the corner, why sound the 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."
Teams most affected by the uncertainty may be those who flirted with the luxury tax this past year, with the Yankees, Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies coming ever so close.
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 on Twitter @Bnightengale.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB news, rumors: Ominous cloud hangs overhead, but GMs not worried