DETROIT – Monday is the last day of negotiations between MLB players and owners before the league’s self-imposed deadline robs fans of regular-season games.
When money is at stake, the owners don’t care much about the game or its fans -- that has never been more apparent. If their quest for maximum profit damages the game and hurts fans in the short-term, the owners are more than willing to make that trade.
Commissioner Rob Manfred announced a league-imposed lockout in December, with the self-proclaimed goal of creating a sense of urgency for both sides and saving the regular season. How much urgency did it create? More than 40 days passed without any negotiating.
The first proposal in mid-January and the dozens of meetings that followed over the next month were all for show. Every offer from the league proved a farce, and days or weeks passed in between bargaining sessions.
What was true during negotiations in 2020 is true again this time around: Baseball owners care more about controlling the perception of these proceedings than they do about getting a deal done.
From the start, MLB had every intention of waiting until this week, putting the players’ backs up against a hard deadline in hopes that they would cave and agree to another league-friendly CBA (collective bargaining agreement).
Look no further than the designated hitter issue. It’s a topic that both sides want, yet owners use it for leverage and tie it to other items on their agenda. This type of posturing is unproductive and only widens the rift between the two sides.
Baseball players have a list of reasonable requests:
- They want pay raises on par with the rise in revenue MLB has enjoyed since the last CBA. It doesn’t make sense that the league is making more money than ever, yet player salaries are decreasing.
- They want younger players to make money more proportionate to their prominence in the league. Teams are turning to young, inexperienced players more often because they’re inexpensive, so the union wants the minimum wage to more accurately reflect the value of those players.
- They want service time manipulation to end. Teams shouldn’t be holding back their top prospects for a few odd weeks just to rob them of one free agency.
There are many other issues important to both sides, but the league simply hasn’t been willing to work with the players to make any meaningful progress toward these goals. Owners simply hope that missing enough games -- a.k.a. paychecks -- will handcuff players into accepting a bad deal.
“Nefarious” and “disingenuous” feel like fair characterizations of how the owners operate. They want to do just enough on the surface to spin the public perception in their favor and vilify players while, in reality, they hold sole responsibility for this debacle.
At best, the owners have been deceptive and hopelessly self-serving. At worst, they’ve been liars and hypocrites.
Players think the luxury tax threshold should increase in line with the game’s current financials, but owners are barely willing to budge. The threshold is a bonafide win-win for owners because it acts as a “soft” salary cap, but since it’s technically not an official salary cap, the league has never been obligated to implement a salary floor.
So teams treat the lowest tax threshold as a salary cap, but there’s no penalty for the franchises that spend next to nothing on player salaries.
Revenue sharing is in that same realm. Sure, the concept makes sense: Even the playing field in free agency by making teams in large-revenue markets share 48% of their gameday revenue with small-market teams. The problem is that revenue sharing dollars often aren’t used to actually sign players. Teams pocket that money for profit and the payroll disparities that revenue sharing was designed to mitigate remain as large as ever.
That’s frustrating for players, and would seem to be an easy item of compromise. MLB should enforce a rule that a certain (large) percentage of revenue sharing dollars be put toward player salaries. Instead, in true infant-having-a-temper-tantrum fashion, the owners simply pack up and storm out of the bargaining room anytime revenue sharing is mentioned.
A precedent has been set for league-friendly deals, and as a result, whenever the owners give the players an inch, they ask for a mile in return. A few million dollars in minimum wage gets tied to four additional playoff teams, or an insignificant increase in the luxury tax threshold comes with much harsher penalties for eclipsing that number.
By all accounts, it would be a miracle if an agreement is reached Monday, and that means regular-season baseball games will be canceled (again, by the league’s own doing).
If that’s the case, and there’s no baseball when March 31 rolls around, just remember everything the owners care more about than baseball:
- Squeezing every last penny out of the players.
- Demonstrating their power over the union.
- Controlling the narrative at the expense of good faith negotiating.
From the lockout to Monday’s self-imposed deadline, everything the owners have done is in the best interest of their own pocket books and public image -- not the best interest of baseball.
This isn’t just the owners vs. the players. It’s the owners against the entire baseball community. And we all know it won’t be the billionaires who feel the consequences.