Any time there is a proposal – or something being considered as a proposal – from either the players or the owners, we generally follow a consistent cycle.
Initial reaction to whatever small nuggets of the proposal were intentionally leaked. Second wave of details that make the proposal look much less compelling. Leaked reaction from the other side about how absurd the proposal is, and how bad faith the other side is being. Leaked reaction to the reaction that intimates their side holds all the cards, and maybe the season goes down the tubes because of it.
… and then, finally, there’s some analysis about where things actually stand. That’s the part I want to do today.
I’m not looking to skip entirely over that middle part, mind you, but we’ve done this dance enough that I don’t know how much it really enlightens any of us to wade through the hostile comments about the latest owner-side proposal (which really isn’t even a proposal, it’s more of a threat). So if you really want to dig in on the sniping back and forth and intentional leaks to negotiate through the media, you can find that stuff out there. Some articles that will provide you more background, if you so desire:
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 2, 2020
The latest: MLB has floated the idea of paying the players their prorated salaries over a unilateral imposed, very short season of 50 games or so. That's the nuclear option. The ideal for both parties is to reach a deal — and the clock is ticking.https://t.co/l4WZuGIN93
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) June 2, 2020
https://t.co/drut4344Ot They exchanged proposals that neither liked, then MLB and PA went back to the more familiar — trading barbs. Cutting quotes from Dan Halem and Tony Clark.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) June 2, 2020
For my part, I just want to focus today on where things stand.
Officially, each of the players and the owners have submitted a proposal to the other side: the owners sought an 82-game season with sliding scale pay cuts beyond prorated pay, while the players sought a 114-game season with full prorated pay. There were enticements and enhancements on each side – postseason compensation, deferrals, extra events, etc. – but really, the bulk is about the amount of pay to the players on a per-game basis, and the length of the season.
To date, although there have been further negotiations regarding health and safety provisions, no report has indicated that it is expected to be a significant impediment. The dispute, truly, is about the money.
The latest response coming from the owner side, as you can see above, is that, yes, prorated pay is on the table (based on the March agreement), but then the league gets to set whatever length of season they choose (based on the March agreement, or so contends MLB).
No one believes that a 50-game season, and the pay that would accompany such a short season, is going to be acceptable to the players. Furthermore, if the league said, “Sorry, this is it,” I think we’d probably have a labor fight. Like, an actual strike/lockout situation. The mind reels at how things could get even worse than they are now on the labor front, but there it would be.
Realistically, the owners know 50 games won’t fly, just as the players likely knew 114 games wouldn’t fly. It’s almost certainly not a coincidence that the literal midpoint of 50 and 114 games is … surprise! 82 games. It’s almost like the negotiations are being handled by someone who once read a one-page flyer on negotiations, and was like, “yeah yeah yeah, I got this.”
So, where does that really leave us, if you’re standing outside this thing and trying to be objective? If you’re trying to cut through the hostile bullshit and really think about what’s fair to the players, what’s good for the sport, and what’s realistically eat-able by the owners? Well, just look at the outer bounds that the parties have now created: on one side, it’s 50 games and full prorated pay (no extra concessions), and on the other side, it’s 114 games and full prorated pay (with some minor deferral and extra event concessions).
It seems to me, if you’ve finally got those outer bounds already agreed to, then this process actually should proceed reasonably enough: you can just use a bracketing strategy. Time-tested, gets results, flexible for complicated discussions, and it works even for hostile negotiations. I can’t always draw on my lawyer experience around here, but on this one, I’ve seen it work very well to settle complicated, nasty, expensive cases.
Here’s how bracketing works.
You get an impartial mediator involved, you get the decision makers in a room, and you work through a process of shrinking the distance, bit by bit, between the two sides. For example: The owners agree to come up to 60 games *only if* the players agree to come down to 104 games. Boom, you just shrunk the financial dispute by a massive amount by making a relatively easy compromise on where you currently stand. You’re still apart, but you’re much closer. The idea, initially, is to shrink the size of the bracket by each giving up the same amount. Then, say the owners agree to go to 70 games if the players agree to X amount of deferrals, and to bring their games down to 90. Then owners agree to go to 82 games if the players agree to do Y and Z. Whatever. The sides can propose different bracket moves, and can negotiate those bracket moves. You see what I’m saying. That’s how this should be proceeding at an overview level.
Hopefully, this is precisely what is happening now behind the scenes, because if an 82-game season that starts July 1 is actually the goal, then a deal needs to be in place this freaking week.