Just a few hours from the posting time of this article, had the MLB Spring Training schedule been played as originally announced, the Chicago Cubs would be hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers for a Cactus League game at Sloan Park. I’d either be there already or on my way, preparing for another beautiful day of baseball — it’s supposed to be sunny and around 70 degrees this afternoon in Mesa. All the other MLB teams were supposed to be in action today, too.
But I can’t, and neither can any baseball fan go to a MLB spring game today. A little more than a week ago, MLB cancelled spring training games through March 4. And Friday evening, after a six-hour negotiating session between players and owners, three more days’ worth of spring games were cancelled. The first possible date for spring games this year is now Tuesday, March 8. The Cubs are scheduled to face the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium that afternoon; the first home game at Sloan Park would be Wednesday, March 9 against the White Sox. Of the original 18 games on the Cubs’ spring schedule, five have now been cancelled. The Cubs are offering credits or refunds to ticket holders.
That also could mean that the 2022 regular season won’t start on time. MLB has previously stated that at least four weeks of spring training are needed for players to prepare for the regular season. Four weeks from March 8 is April 5; the Cubs have four regular season games scheduled before that date. Some teams have five regular season games between the scheduled March 31 opener and April 4.
And we’re now just three days’ worth of negotiations between owners and players before Monday, the day owners said they would actually begin cancelling regular season games. (I assume the parties will talk Monday before that happens.)
This is all just sad, and didn’t have to happen. While it is true that owners did lose quite a bit of revenue in 2020 due to having no ticket sales for an abbreviated 60-game pandemic season, they also had to pay just 37 percent of player salaries, and many teams cut other expenses, including letting go front-office employees. We’ll never know for sure, but it would seem to me that might have been a wash. Many MLB teams were likely making large profits for several years before 2020, and as we saw here:
Liberty Media-owned Atlanta Braves report $568 million in revenue for 2021, $20 million in operating income, big shift from pandemic-impacted 2020 totals of $178 million in rev, $128 million operating loss. Adjusted OIBDA swings fr $53 million loss '20 to $104 million gain in '21— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBG) February 25, 2022
... at least one team appeared to be making pretty good money in 2021, even with the lack of full capacity early in the season. The Braves drew 2.3 million in 2021, and both that and their average of 28,753 per game ranked second in MLB to the Dodgers. Both those figures were down from the last full season, 2019, when Atlanta sold 2,654,920 tickets, an average of 32,777 per game. Yet they still made money. Here’s a bit more detail on those financial numbers:
Do not believe the lie that baseball teams are not extremely profitable ventures. They are. And the financials of the Atlanta Braves, as @EricFisherSBG noted, illustrate that. A $104 million profit in 2021. A $6 million-per-game revenue stream. As a business, baseball is superb. pic.twitter.com/OXlMCdOKNn— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 25, 2022
All of this is why I’ll repost this tweet I posted here Friday morning:
One last time: The owners could accept the players’ platform as is and they would win this negotiation. That’s how little the players are asking for relative to the new revenue on the table. That’s still not good enough for them. They’re lighting baseball on fire for nothing.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) February 24, 2022
And that’s without a competitive balance tax, the most contentious issue, factored in.
You have probably noticed that the coverage on this site recently has been almost exclusively regarding the lockout and negotiations, with bits of Cubs history. Could I post things about free agents the Cubs could still sign, or minor leaguers working out, or other baseball-related items? Sure, but those things seem so far away now. With the MLB-imposed deadline coming up Monday, it would just make me sad to do that.
Which raised this question in my mind: Is that Monday deadline a hard deadline for owners, as they stated, or is it a bluff intended to get players to accept a deal that isn’t what they want? I suppose we’ll find out on Monday.
Talks will continue Saturday. As you likely heard Friday, Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA chief Tony Clark had a meeting during that day’s sessions. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports what happened there:
In what could be interpreted as a sign of increased urgency — though no one would say so directly — MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred met with MLBPA head Tony Clark one-on-one Friday afternoon. Manfred had not been in the room for any bargaining sessions since these talks began. Though he was present at Roger Dean Stadium at times this week, his role had been limited to consultation with the owners. Clark and Manfred do not meet often, but a person familiar with their meeting said they discussed ways to move the negotiation process forward.
Much as I know Tony Clark is respected by players, it has been a good thing for him to not be that directly involved in talks so far. These negotiations, in my view, are best left to MLB’s labor lawyer Bruce Meyer. But if Clark and Manfred can find “ways to move the negotiation process forward,” that’s a good thing.
There’s one more thing that I want to tell you about that was reported late Friday by Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic:
During conversations with player leadership in Florida this week, Major League Baseball has asked for a shortened period of time to implement on-field changes it desires, specifically mentioning a pitch clock, people briefed on the conversations told The Athletic. Under the old agreement, the commissioner had the power — granted by the players in the collective bargaining agreement — to implement on-field changes one year after formally proposing them. Manfred wants to move faster.
Players reacted negatively to the league’s idea of a shorter period to implementation, sources said.
So that’s another issue between owners and players that likely would have to be solved before a labor agreement can be put in place.
If a deal is made and things start ramping up for the 2022 baseball season, then sure, absolutely, you’ll see lots of content like that on this site. Until then, I’m going to continue to cover the lockout and the negotiations, because to me, that’s the baseball story that matters.
I hope they’ll figure out a way to come to agreement soon. I’d much rather write about possible free agent signings, position battles, and games.
As always, we await developments. I’ll have a wrap of today’s talks sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, depending on how long today’s discussions go.