Thursday, MLB owners asked for federal mediation of their lockout-induced (lack of) negotiation with players.
As I noted in that article, federal mediation in the 1994/95 baseball strike failed to produce an agreement, and the union found it to be pretty useless:
“It was a joke. It had no value,” said Don Fehr, head of the MLBPA during the 1994-95 strike. “And there were all kind of agendas at work in the mediation that had nothing to do with the agendas of the parties trying to resolve the dispute.”
Thus this should not come as a surprise to you:
Statement from the Major League Baseball Players Association: pic.twitter.com/KBssy2e66U— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) February 4, 2022
I’m with the players here. The statement “The clearest path to a fair and timely agreement is to get back to the table” is absolutely correct. Since the lockout was declared December 1, the parties have spent only about five total hours negotiating on the core economic issues that separate players and owners from a deal, as well put by San Francisco Giants pitcher Alex Wood:
How can MLB request for there to be a mediator from the Federal Government to help with negotiations when they literally haven’t even done any negotiating up to this point? Asking for a friend.— Alex Wood (@Awood45) February 4, 2022
Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver sums things up pretty well:
The ploy used by the league to hire a federal mediator to work through the lockout is a tactic to show they are bargaining in good faith. We the players want to get to the bargaining table ASAP to get ready for the 2022 season.— GarvSauce (@MitchGarver) February 4, 2022
This is not going to be like recent CBA negotiations where incremental change is made and players wind up with the worse of the deal. Players are as united as I have ever seen them and appear to be ready to sit out part of the 2022 season. They have assembled a war chest of around $180 million, and recently paid small stipends to players.
This very long article from our SB Nation friends at True Blue LA takes a deep dive into the financial issues surrounding baseball today, and is well worth your time. Near the end of the article the author comes to the crux of the owners’ problem:
As shown above, the owners’ default position is that we are tapped out and even though on paper, we are making money hand over figurative fist, this gravy train cannot slow down. No, you do not get to look at our books to prove it, players!
Negotiation is about the idea of “give and take.” In my day job, if I am negotiating with someone and they keep giving me a ridiculous position after ridiculous position: I stop negotiations and pursue other methods of resolution because life is too short to waste on stupid. Furthermore, if you refuse to interact with me during a negotiation, you do not get to whine to other parties that I am somehow being unreasonable.
So if the entire strategy is to make the players bend in a total victory and you cannot accept anything less than total victory, by definition, there is no room to maneuver.
And here we are. He goes on to write, regarding the players:
Unless I am missing something huge, the Players do not have a liquidity problem. The Players have a strike fund and can wait out the Owners’ collective temper tantrum. Remember all that whining and moaning coming from the Owners about the loss of revenue from playing games in an empty stadium prior to baseball starting back up in 2020 – what I do not recall hearing, because it likely is not true, is that the owners would make more money without games.
Based on everything I have laid out above, by definition, that statement likely cannot be true. The players do not need to not lose money, they just need to lose less than the Owners before they break or drive the sport off the cliff.
Sums it up pretty well, I think. The owners have backed themselves into a corner with the lockout, which Commissioner Rob Manfred claimed would “jumpstart” negotiations. Clearly, that did not happen and isn’t going to happen. (Seriously though, read that entire True Blue LA article, it’s comprehensive and well done.)
Owners are scheduled to have their quarterly meetings next week in Orlando, Florida. Per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, Manfred will hold a news conference next Thursday, February 10, at the conclusion of those meetings. That’s only six days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report for Spring Training, and just 16 days before the first scheduled MLB spring games. At this juncture I think we are almost certain to have a delay in the beginning of Spring Training — and at that point all bets are off, to use a phrase that I probably shouldn’t because of MLB’s dive into legalized gambling as a new revenue source.
And if you’re wondering what the key issues are separating the parties, listen to Kansas City Royals infielder Whit Merrifield:
Based on the incredible annual revenue of the league, we feel players with 0-3 years of service should be better compensated.— Whit Merrifield (@WhitMerrifield) February 4, 2022
We want to fix the competitive balance so EVERY team’s focus is winning year after year
We want to fix service time manipulation https://t.co/N5z5peN9wb
You wouldn’t think it would be THAT hard to find areas of agreement regarding those three issues. But it is. And regarding the first — “the incredible annual revenue of the league” — it’s absolutely true. Look at this graph for proof:
This is a good visual representation of MLB estimated revenues via Forbes, the average Opening Day Payroll via the AP, and the CBT first tier. Graph pulled together by The Athletic. It tells the story: revenues vastly outpacing CBT and player salaries. pic.twitter.com/dxIwMZ4JeH— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) February 4, 2022
MLB is making more and more money (the chart is through 2019), and players have made a smaller and smaller percentage of it over the last decade.
Fasten your seat belts, this is not going to be solved any time soon.