It is fair to say that other than an admitted pro-player lean when it comes to CBA negotiations in sports in general, I have generally tried to remain in “wait and see” mode regarding the MLB lockout. While it continues to blow me away how many fans and members of media hold water for the billionaire owners that instituted the lockout because players (who ARE the product) “are paid millions to play a game”, at the end of the day…this is about a whole lot of money and I can generally respect that neither side wants to give any of it up.
However, what we have seen from Rob Manfred and MLB owners during these negotiations and the lockout has been beyond the pale and have been acting to the detriment of the sport of baseball in the short and long term. Moreover, they have done so with the blatantly transparent strategy that no matter how unreasonable or intractable they are, they believe that fans and observers are stupid and/or blind and will blame the players for any impasses. It is unconscionable, irresponsible, the definition of not operating in good faith, and fortunately is being (somewhat) called out for the BS that it is.
Take for example just the negotiations surrounding expanding the MLB playoffs. I will ignore the fact that I think that expanding the playoffs is a bad idea altogether. However, the status quo right now is 10 playoff teams and that was after adding two extra wild card teams starting in the 2012 season. Despite the fact that there are good arguments that both adding those extra teams helped suppress player salaries overall despite the increase in the number of players eligible for playoff bonuses (teams don’t have to spend as much because they don’t have to aim to be as good, etc.), MLBPA is open to an expansion to 12 teams to meet MLB in the middle from their 14 team offer.
MLB won’t budge. 14 teams or bust. And somehow MLBPA is being unreasonable.
One of MLBPA’s biggest priorities during these negotiations has been to prioritize how players are paid and controlled in the early parts of their career both in terms of pay as well as when it comes to service time. The players want to combat service time manipulation and get players paid more earlier in their careers especially those that perform well.
MLB’s response: changes to arbitration and the number of years of team control are completely off the table along with substantial pay raises to players with 0-3 years of service time. However, we will agree to a modest raise, allow a pool of $10 million to be split between ALL pre-arb players that perform well each year, reward teams with a draft pick if they add a top prospect (definition VERY TBD) to their roster instead of manipulating their service time, and make it slightly easier to use prospects as injury replacements in season. My cup runneth over.
Just a few weeks ago, MLBPA made a proposal to the league and the league later told them that they would give them their counterproposal in a couple days. Instead, the league formally asked for a federal mediator instead and when the players rejected that request quickly, the owners took their sweet time finally giving a proposal. To paraphrase Ivan’s great article on the matter, it is wild how committed the owners are to stalling these negotiations to the detriment of the sport.
Hell, even Rob Manfred can’t even admit that owning a baseball team is very profitable. These are actual words that came out of his mouth.
Manfred: "If you look at the purchase price of franchises, the cash that's put in during the period of ownership, and then what they've sold for, historically the return on those investments is below what you'd expect to get in the stock market, with a lot more risk." -- LOL— Gregor Chisholm (@GregorChisholm) February 10, 2022
Nevermind the fact that his assertion is unbelievably tone deaf (oh those poor, poor billionaires) and also completely ignores year to year revenues, baseball teams are incredibly profitable. Jeffrey Loria bought the Marlins for around $158 million in 2002, mismanaged the franchise as one of the worst owners in sports ruining any chance of a substantial fan base there, and STILL sold the team for $1.2 billion in 2018.
If you are looking for a big picture analysis here: look no further than the words of Joe Sheehan who put it very, very succinctly.
The owners could accept the players' financial platform today and still be in better shape than they were three years ago. The lockout should be lifted today. (read for free)https://t.co/yxOrFwyQ78 pic.twitter.com/8lvRxjmqbo— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) February 14, 2022
Yep, that’s right. Based on the players’ current positions in the negotiations, if the owners lifted the lockout right now and accepted MLBPA’s terms, ownerships position would IMPROVE over where it was three years ago. The owners don’t want fair terms, they want grossly unfair terms and they want you to believe that they deserve them.
In fairness, MLBPA and specifically Tony Clark do not have clean hands in this. In addition to Clark’s incompetence in the last CBA negotiations while focusing on minor details and benefits leading to MLB thinking they COULD get away with anything, but now the union probably feels like they need to get back some of that ground AND doesn’t trust the owners. They shouldn’t trust owners, but the complete absence of it especially in the wake of the disastrous negotiations over the 2020 season has not made things easier.
We are dealing with complex issues here so it is not as simple as one side or the other is completely right. There does need to be some give and take on both sides to make this work. However, what Rob Manfred and the league is doing is betting outside observers blaming the players regardless of the facts or fairness. They think no one perceives a lockout and a strike any differently. They think that if they refuse to show their actual books, that fans and league-aligned media members will turn against the players because they play a game for a living and ignore teams pocketing millions and millions more as a result. In short, they think we are all stupid…and it doesn’t look like the players (and a lot of the media, too) are fooled this time.