I have been thinking about what happened during owner/player discussions Saturday, when players made what they felt was a real substantive move toward owners’ positions only to have that proposal rejected and have owners only move tiny baby steps toward the players and what I felt about and what I might say here, only to find that Evan Drellich of The Athletic said it much better than I could:
They could have postponed Opening Day a long time ago.
Two days before a deadline that MLB imposed for the 2022 season to start on time, and 86 days after the league started a lockout, the owners’ message to players remained the same: You’re not getting anything close to what you want without a fight. Your wallet will suffer before we bend. If you want change, it will cost you games and money, and fans will be at your Twitter doorstep, haranguing you to get back on the field.
The daily volleys in negotiations, including the latest flurry of proposals on the sixth straight day of talks, have told the same story over and over. On Saturday, MLB offered to increase the luxury-tax threshold by $1 million in just one of the next five seasons, as dramatic a chest poke as one could imagine in these negotiations.
Ken Rosenthal was even more blunt:
The players’ union made moves on Saturday, moves it considered significant toward reaching a new collective-bargaining agreement. Major League Baseball responded by raising a collective middle finger.
This is exactly correct, in my view. Both Drellich’s and Rosenthal’s articles are worth reading in their entirety, but Maury Brown sums them up pretty well:
Heard from more than one that the way owners are behaving it’s a chance for them to try to break MLBPA. PA membership has said repeatedly that it’s the strongest isn’t been in decades.— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) February 27, 2022
Sets the stage for possible 2nd act: protracted stare down. Season dramatically shortened.
Unfortunately, at this point that appears to be the only possible outcome. Now, the parties have had a cooling-off time after ending Saturday’s session early and perhaps they’ll come back to Sunday’s discussions, which will begin at noon Central time, with a new attitude. From my vantage point Maury Brown is correct: Owners appear willing to do anything they can to break the union and, possibly, roll back things to where they were well before 1994, well before 1981, in fact maybe even before free agency. Crazy, you say? Not the way ownership is acting. If the MLBPA thinks that losing an entire season is the way to get a better deal for players going forward, I think they should absolutely go for that.
Would that suck? Yes. Would it be a slap in the face to the paying customer, who — remember, owners — pays every penny of MLB’s $11 billion business either by buying tickets and merchandise directly from you or indirectly through cable/satellite/streaming subscriptions or buying the products of the sponsors who line your wallets? Yes, absolutely. I hate to think that Major League Baseball has come to this, come to the point where a complete reset is necessary to fix what’s wrong with the sport’s financial structure, but maybe it has to be.
From Rosenthal’s article, about the relationship between fans and the sport:
In past labor negotiations, fans generally have been quick to blame players, viewing them as lucky to be paid at all for playing a child’s game. Many fans today, however, are well aware the owners are much wealthier than the players and part of the industry for much longer. And every time Manfred opens his mouth publicly, he only makes matters worse.
Let’s also make one more thing clear. Again: MLB is an $11 billion a year business. We are not talking about whether “players make so much money and teachers don’t.” The business brings in that much revenue, that’s an undeniable fact. The dispute is over how much of it the players should get, and how it should be distributed. MLB players are the game. I’ll repeat something I’ve written many times previously: No one goes to a baseball game, or watches one on TV, or listens on the radio, to see owners own teams. They go to see the best baseball players in the world ply their craft, to thrill us with their feats, to win and lose and eventually produce an annual champion. Otherwise why would we spend our time and money and emotion on this sport?
Right now I’m going to add a few more thoughts from others that sum up the current issues quite well, I think:
The owners are willing to sacrifice a month or maybe more of the season in order to break the union. I suggest taking them up on that invitation -- specifying expanded playoffs are now off the table -- and seeing how their debt holders and gambling partners feel about that.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) February 26, 2022
And good luck lifting the lockout, trying to declare an impasse, and then defending against claims of bad faith when, in a time of expanding revenues, you are proposing an all-but-hard cap, shrinking pay due to inflation, and are demanding a 14-team postseason "in exchange"— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) February 26, 2022
Another item from today: League reiterated that it wants to shorten the window to unilaterally implement on-field changes to 45 days of notice instead of the one year it presently possesses. The proposal, as @EvanDrellich and @Ken_Rosenthal said, was not received well by players.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 26, 2022
The owners have an awkward record of overreaching. Last time it resulted in a federal injunction and partial loss of antitrust exemption. The time before, they paid half a billion bucks in damages to the players. Shoot the moon, baby!— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 26, 2022
Here are some numbers crunched for you:
MLB remains intent on creating a much more rigid, de facto salary cap (that comes with no floor or $ guarantees). If MLB revenues continue their average 6% increase as they did from 2003-19, and they lock in more 0-1% CBT increases, MLB will get there. ... https://t.co/q7EJls49tm pic.twitter.com/rtIUziD3u9— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) February 26, 2022
Travis Sawchik’s entire thread is worth reading and I commend you to it.
This is where ownership’s position has gotten us. They locked out the players nearly three months ago, spent almost half of that time not negotiating at all, then spent the rest of the negotiating time making such tiny increments to their offer that they might as well have not bothered.
Dan Szymborski, whose tweet appears above, also sent out this radical idea late Saturday:
What MLBPA should considering doing: offer the owners *their own* 1994 salary cap proposal.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 27, 2022
50/50 revenue split and players need just four years to become restricted FA.
It's actually far better than the system in place now and would owners would never agree to it.
That’ll never happen, of course, but I’d love to see owners’ heads explode if that actually happened.
So here’s where we stand, per Jesse Rogers at ESPN:
MLB says if there is not an agreement by the end of Monday, it would start canceling regular-season games because there will not be enough training time to play a full schedule. Players have not said whether they agree to that as a deadline.
Once Monday passes, the length of the schedule would become yet another issue in the dispute along with possible lost pay and service time.
The union has told MLB if games are missed and salaries are lost, clubs should not expect players to agree to management’s proposals to expand the postseason and to allow advertisements on uniforms and helmets.
So that’s it, in theory. Two days to save the season. I’m not optimistic at this point, and as I noted Saturday, with the first day of possible Spring Training games pushed back to March 8 at the earliest:
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.
As always, we await developments. (And artistic photos from MLB writers.)