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Rob Manfred says to players: No economic concessions for labor peace

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Get ready for some nasty owner/player negotiations

Al Yellon

We’ve been seeing the backlash over Major League Baseball’s proposal to decimate the minor leagues over the last few days.

Now, Commissioner Rob Manfred has fired a shot across the bow to the players even before serious labor negotiations take place. There have been some preliminary meetings between players and owners, supposedly to set up more serious negotiations, but this does not sound promising, not at all:

Multiple sources briefed about what occurred in those talks told NBC Sports today that Manfred took an aggressive posture, telling the union that there is “not going to be a deal where we pay you in economics to get labor peace.” Manfred also told union representatives that, “maybe Marvin Miller’s financial system doesn’t work anymore.” Those briefed on Manfred’s comments requested anonymity because they were not permitted to share the details of July’s talks. Officials from the Major League Baseball Players Association declined comment.

Those briefed on Manfred’s comments tell NBC Sports that the impression left by them was that the league plans to take a hard line with the union and is unwilling to make any concessions on the numerous pocketbook issues about which the players are concerned, including tanking, the glacial pace of the free agent market, the Competitive Balance Tax, and qualifying offers.

The way I see it — and I agree with Craig Calcaterra, who wrote the linked article — is that MLB owners appear to have a desire to completely change the collective-bargaining system that’s been in place for several decades and perhaps to institute a salary cap, among other things.

This really isn’t the way to begin negotiations, and things have been contentious between players and owners for some time, especially with the glacially slow free-agent markets of the last two offseasons. Sure, the top level of free agents have been paid, guys like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and Mike Trout got a huge-dollar long-term extension from the Angels, but the mid-range free agent has been basically frozen out and in many cases, wound up out of baseball. Teams have decided that they can get equivalent production to the mid-range free agent out of minimum-salaried younger players. Thus a player who hits free agency at, say, age 30 or 31 and who isn’t a superstar is likely to not get a contract at all.

This is something players want to rectify, but Manfred’s comments appear to indicate that owners are going to take a hard line with this. It’s a shame in a $10 billion business like Major League Baseball that some money can’t be found to keep the minor leagues vibrant, or to pay players what the teams clearly can afford to pay, but have chosen not to.

Craig Calcaterra concludes:

We’ve talked often about the current labor landscape in this space. Major League Baseball’s revenues have gone up sharply in the past several years. Player compensation, however, has declined. Players are increasingly shut out of revenue streams the league and its clubs have realized via real estate development, side ventures, and business partnerships that depend in no small amount on the playing of baseball games. Between those things and the increasing downward pressure on salaries due to the approach of modern front offices — and, according to some, due to teams colluding against free agents — the players are feeling the pinch. They thus, understandably, have a strong desire to take back some amount of economic ground they have lost in past negotiations.

Craig is correct, in my view. Enjoy the next two seasons, because come 2022, the first year after the current collective-bargaining agreement expires, there’s a pretty good chance we won’t be seeing baseball come Opening Day — or maybe not at all.