We are in the final year of the MLB/MLB Players Association collective-bargaining agreement. It expires December 1.
Given the somewhat contentious relations between players and owners, there’s been some fear that the 2022 season could be interrupted either partly or completely by a strike or lockout.
Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports that MLBPA executive director Tony Clark is hoping talks will begin soon after Opening Day:
“A lot of the focus right now is on wrapping up a successful spring training and getting guys and their families safely to their home city,” Clark said. “… Once guys get settled and everyone gets settled in and the regular season underway, while there will continue to be day-to-day focus on those same moving pieces, there will be more of an opportunity to move the CBA negotiations into the fore.”
Some industry insiders have wondered if MLB and the players’ union might opt to extend the current CBA another year and begin a normal cycle of talks during the 2022 season. Clark said that as of now, he still believes a full-fledged negotiation for a long-term deal is on the table.
The idea of extending the current CBA, to give negotiators more time as baseball and the rest of the world returns to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t a bad one. If talks between players and owners stall, this might be a good way to buy some time. However, there are serious issues between the two parties. I expect the most difficult conversations will come regarding service time, which has been a bone of contention between players and owners for several years.
“Tanking,” as losing on purpose to get better draft position is colloquially termed, is also an issue:
“We want to make sure that there are incentives in the system based on what we have seen for teams to compete and want to be successful, as opposed to rewarding teams for losing — particularly the long, prolonged losing,” said Clark, who didn’t name any teams in particular.
He also outlined a desire to change the way younger players are compensated, another common sticking point among players. Under baseball’s arbitration system, ultra-productive younger players are often far more cost-effective for teams than veterans. That means teams are paying the players who create the most value less than those who don’t bring as much on the field.
Clark is correct; there has to be a better way than the current system of arbitration and free agency. How that is structured so that both players and owners are satisfied will likely be among the most difficult things to negotiate. Clark concluded:
“We go into it as we do each one with an eye on a fair and equitable deal, while acknowledging that our guys are committed and focused on making improvements to the current system based on the trends and the things that we’re seeing,” Clark said. “And we hope that we can find common ground in doing so before the expiration December 1st.”
As a fan of the game, I hope so too. I certainly don’t want to see a labor stoppage, one that could potentially cost MLB an entire season. The NHL went through that in 2004-05. MLB hasn’t had a work stoppage since the 1994-95 strike, though they came very close in 2002. That’s more than 25 years of relative labor peace, though it’s become somewhat less peaceful over the last couple of years.
Lastly, I hope Clark steps aside from leading the negotiations and allows the MLBPA’s labor lawyer Bruce Meyer take the lead. In this sort of atmosphere a good labor attorney would be much better at this than a former MLB player, no matter how well-liked Clark is.
Hoping for the best, and this is likely the first of many articles on the upcoming MLB/MLBPA labor negotations.