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MLB players and owners will talk today, but don’t expect anything to get accomplished

And let’s be clear: This is all on ownership.

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Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

News item:

My expectation of this meeting is that it will last as long as the previous meeting between MLB owners and representatives of the MLBPA, about an hour. The presentation that players make will almost certainly will be rejected out of hand by ownership, and we’ll be another day closer to having Spring Training and the 2022 regular season delayed.

Evan Drellich of The Athletic, who does great work on this topic, wrote this article on the stalled negotiations last week and sums up the process this way:

Everything we’ve seen thus far suggests MLB owners want to test the players. That they intend to wait out the players as long as possible, to see if they’ll crack under the threat of losing paychecks.

This lockout strategy at the commissioner’s office appears designed around one goal: minimizing how much owners have to give up. If you, as an owner, wait until the last minute, players might grow impatient, and you can surrender less than you would otherwise. Or if the players totally crumble, maybe you part with close to nothing. And if the players stand tall? Well, at least you didn’t give up any more than you had to, any sooner than you had to.

That doesn’t sound like a way to make an agreement where both ownership and the players can get something (but not everything) they want, does it?

Before the lockout even happened, Commissioner Rob Manfred said this:

November 18 — let’s see, that was 65 days ago. How has the process moved forward since then, Rob?

Crickets, that’s what I hear. From Drellich:

MLB, meanwhile, has taken a tack of obfuscation. The league often argues that it’s actually delivering the changes the players want, or should want: The players want younger players to be paid more, right? Look, we’ve made a proposal to do that! How can they still be unhappy?

MLB has indeed made proposals that technically address areas like pay for young players. But in most if not all cases, those gives have been small, at best, and sometimes, they shouldn’t rightly be considered gives at all. These proposals are rarely made in isolation. They’re made as packages, where acceptance of one condition requires acceptance of others. Thus far, league packages have come with trade-offs that the players feel ultimately would make their standing worse overall, or would not meaningfully improve it.

For example, one of the reasons the players so disliked the proposal MLB made in August to institute a salary floor was because it came with modifications to the luxury tax that would’ve severely hampered free agency. The owners have offered to raise the luxury tax thresholds slightly, while simultaneously increasing the penalties to exceed them. And on the question of getting younger players paid more, MLB keeps offering to pay players by a formula that, in the short term, might bring a little more money to players, but would also sacrifice the salary arbitration process — a mechanism players greatly value because it allows them to argue for higher pay to a third party.

I wrote about that “formula” back in November. It was remarkably similar to a proposal made by owners to players called “Pay For Performance” during the 1990 lockout — more than 30 years ago! Guess who was behind that?

“Other reports credited the authorship of PFP to PRC lawyer Rob Manfred, Mets executive Frank Cashen, and Brewers executive Harry Dalton.” (PRC stood for “Player Relations Committee.”)

Ah, ha. What’s old is new again. Do the owners think players are stupid?

Today, a counteroffer from players will be made to owners. It will be interesting to see what’s in it, of course, but I don’t expect it to move the needle at all, and I don’t expect any further “bargaining sessions” to happen in the near future.

Today, we are 33 days from the Cubs’ scheduled Cactus League opener at Sloan Park against the Dodgers, and probably about two weeks less than that to pitcher and catcher report days (which have not yet been officially announced). It’s getting close to the time where that game and other Spring Training openers are in jeopardy.

As always, we await developments, and I suspect we’re going to be waiting a while.