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Where we stand on the owners’ lockout entering a weekend without Major League Baseball

It ain’t pretty.

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Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thursday, there was an “informal” meeting between representatives of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. Here’s how that went:

MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem and union attorney Bruce Meyer — the lead negotiators for both parties — were joined by league senior vice president Morgan Sword and MLBPA attorney Ian Penny, according to sources.

The New York-based meeting lasted 90 minutes, sources said, and covered the core issues that led MLB to cancel the first week of regular-season games Tuesday.

There was no indication as of Thursday afternoon when the sides planned to meet again. The MLBPA executive board was to hold a conference call later Thursday.

So, there’s the news, which is really no news. As of now, Spring Training games are still on MLB.com’s schedule for March 12, a week from tomorrow, but I don’t think anyone really believes those will happen. I would imagine we’ll hear about more spring game cancellations soon, and possibly even more regular season cancellations.

News also came out Thursday, reported by Andy Martino of SNY, that four owners were against even MLB’s “best offer” made to players Tuesday. A lot of speculation ensued as to which teams those were and you might be surprised to learn that it’s these four, reported by Evan Drellich of The Athletic:

Four Major League Baseball owners — Bob Castellini of the Reds, Chris Ilitch of the Tigers, Ken Kendrick of the Diamondbacks and Arte Moreno of the Angels — objected to raising the competitive balance tax to the levels the league ultimately proposed most recently, three people briefed on an owner-wide call held this week told The Athletic. MLB moved forward with the proposal anyway, moving its offer on the first threshold to $220 million — up $10 million from where it was in 2021, and $6 million from its previous offer, but still far below the players’ ask of $238 million.

I want you to remember what those four owners’ rejection of MLB’s offer means — essentially, it means that those owners thought that even the lowball owners’ offer was too much money. Also, this:

Not all small-market owners — owners who theoretically would be most disadvantaged by an increase in the luxury tax, which curtails high-end spending — were opposed to the raise, either. Rather, at least some of the four owners took stances based on their personal feelings toward costs and baseball’s economic system, sources said.

It should be noted that among those four teams, except for a quick wild card series loss by the Reds in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, none of them has been to the postseason since 2014. So you tell me: Do those owners care about winning? Or profits?

Lastly, this note from Drellich’s article is mind-boggling:

One of the league’s efforts that irked the players was a proposal to incorporate meal money and the stipends players receive into the luxury-tax calculations. MLB, in other words, wanted to count the amount of money players receive for food against the amount of money teams can spend before they are taxed.

The luxury tax already includes some player benefit costs — it’s not just a strict accounting of player salary. But players were angry, sources said, the league would try to add something as fundamental as the cost of food as a reason to spend less on payroll. MLB also tried to include stipends paid to players who participate in the All-Star Game, the Home Run Derby and other special events, sources said.

So not only are owners trying to continue to keep the percentage of revenues given to players low, they’re nickel-and-diming them.

I just keep coming back to this quote from Blue Jays player rep Ross Stripling:

As Monday turned into Tuesday and talks continued late into the night, some players got the impression owners were underestimating them.

“It got to be like 12:30 and the fine print of their CBT proposal was stuff we had never seen before,” Stripling said. “They were trying to sneak things through us, it was like they think we’re dumb baseball players and we get sleepy after midnight or something. It’s like that stupid football quote, they are who we thought they were. They did exactly what we thought they would do. They pushed us to a deadline that they imposed, and then they tried to sneak some shit past us at that deadline and we were ready for it. We’ve been ready for five years. And then they tried to flip it on us today in PR, saying that we’ve changed our tone and tried to make it look like it was our fault. That never happened.”

Lastly, you should read this column written by Jeff Moorad at Sportico. Moorad is a former sports agent who’s also served as CEO of the Diamondbacks and Padres, so he’s seen baseball from both a player and management perspective.

Moorad writes, about modern sports team ownership:

Fundamentally, investors are attracted to the disproportionate annualized returns available in sports, with limited relative downside risk. The indexed valuation performance of sports franchises and clubs has far outpaced the S&P 500 over the last decade, and in some leagues, such as the NBA and MLB, has done so dramatically. Rising valuations have shown to be uncorrelated to on-field performance or to the broader market cycles. For a disciplined institutional investor, sports represent a significant uncorrelated diversification opportunity for a portfolio . . . we believe that the combination of competitive dynamics, cultural significance and increasing management sophistication positions teams, leagues and sports-related businesses for continued growth of revenues, incomes and valuations.

Again: Profit, or winning? Seems pretty clear what MLB owners are prioritizing, or at least the four noted above.

I’m afraid we could be waiting a long, long time for Major League Baseball to be played in 2022.

As always, we await developments. Below are the results of this week’s SB Nation Reacts survey regarding the lockout.