You know, today’s about the time when pitchers and catchers would be reporting to Mesa, Arizona for Cubs camp to begin. I’d be getting excited, you too, probably. I’d be well into researching and writing the “Know your enemy” articles I write about Cubs opponents that run here around this time of year.
Instead, I just feel kind of blah. We don’t know when the lockout will end; there was no news yesterday and there isn’t likely to be any today. We’re just 11 days from the first scheduled Cubs spring training game and there is zero official word on whether that’ll happen. (Hint: It won’t.)
Baseball has defined my springs and summers as long as I can remember. Yours too, probably. I’m trying to provide new material for this site on a daily basis, but it’s not easy when there are no rumored signings, no possible trades, no “best shape of his life” posts on social media. If you want to get an idea of the lack of interest, go to this Cubs spring ticketing page and look at how many unsold seats there are. This shouldn’t surprise you, given the uncertainties, but MLB owners are going down a dangerous road. It won’t be difficult for many fans to find other things to do with their time and money if baseball doesn’t settle this lockout soon.
Yes, minor league players will report to camp next week and there will be workouts. I might head over to Mesa to watch one of them, and in fact, there’s going to be a college game at Sloan Park on Monday (Cal vs. Gonzaga). You can go to that one for $10 (general admission) if you’re in the area and just want to see baseball, or see Cal and three other college teams (TCU, Houston and San Diego State) at Salt River Fields this weekend for $17. I might do that, too.
Obviously, that’s not Major League Baseball, the sport we all want to see.
Joe Sheehan wrote this interesting article yesterday showing some of the numbers being discussed, and this paragraph hits home:
If the owners were to accept all of the players’ numbers today, it would cost them perhaps $440 million in 2022 (almost certainly less given the many free agents who have already signed), rising to perhaps $610 million in 2026. It would return overall player pay in 2022 to less than what it was in 2018, when it peaked at $4.55 billion, and lock in a rate of rise over the next five years that will almost certainly lag the growth in revenues. The players’ current proposals on financial issues are already a win for the owners.
I agree with that, and the note about “the many free agents who have already signed” is important. Owners went on a spending spree in the few days before the lockout was instituted. That says to me that the money to pay players is already there.
I also want to call your attention to Jay Jaffe’s article on the lockout yesterday at Fangraphs, and in particular this:
If you’re expecting this column to both-sides the failure to hash out a new CBA, to assign equal blame to the MLBPA as to the owners, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This is a lockout, not a strike. It is entirely of the owners’ doing — you could say they own it — and entirely unnecessary, because the 2022 season could be played under the terms of the previous CBA until a new one is in place. The two sides would need to agree to restore the old agreement’s Competitive Balance Tax, Joint Drug Agreement, and domestic violence policy — all of which have technically expired as of December 1, 2021 — until such a point, and that may not be trivial, but it would be a rare glimpse of good faith. Based on the minimal concessions the owners have been offering, not to mention the widening gap between revenues and salaries over the past decade, they must like that old CBA pretty well, because they seem reluctant to change things too radically.
I’m 100 percent in agreement with Jaffe here. The owners could have indeed agreed to do that; in fact, when the 1995 strike was ended by a court ruling, there still wasn’t a CBA and none was agreed to until almost two years later. One would hope it wouldn’t take that long this time, but playing baseball under the old deal would, in my view, be preferable to what we have now.
Jaffe’s entire article is worth reading, as it goes into great detail on the competitive balance tax and other issues keeping owners and players apart. He concludes:
Even with the lack of progress and the players voicing their frustrations, it’s worth noting that the immediate asymmetry of the situation favors the union. Players don’t get paid for spring training, so they won’t feel the bite of missed games as suddenly as the owners will when their exhibition dates begin to dwindle. The owners obviously have much more ability to absorb the loss of games long-term than the players do, but given the empty ballparks of 2020 and the reduced attendance last year, their resolve may be tested more quickly than that of the union. The players appear galvanized and geared up for a stand via which they can regain some of the ground they’ve lost, and guarantee their rank and file significantly more security, financial and otherwise, than they currently enjoy.
I concur with this conclusion. We are expecting a player counteroffer to the owners’ weekend offer sometime this week. The sooner the better, I’d say.
Lastly, you might have read last night that MLB owners are proposing a reduction in the Domestic Reserve List (the number of minor leaguers each team controls). BCB’s Sara Sanchez will have more on this coming up later today.