MLB Already Sounding Dire Financial Alarms for 2021, and Will Want Players to Negotiate Again

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MLB Already Sounding Dire Financial Alarms for 2021, and Will Want Players to Negotiate Again

Chicago Cubs

In another timeline, it sure would be weird to see a league – during the week of its high-profile championship event – out there dropping lines about how terribly it is doing. But when it comes to Major League Baseball, in a timeline where a pandemic has ravaged revenues and exacerbating existing fights between the players and owners, it’s completely normal stuff.

The league, during the World Series, is out there giving an exclusive update on the dire financial state of the league:

The closing quote from Manfred to Sportico: “It’s absolutely certain, I know, that we’re going to have to have conversations with the MLBPA about what 2021 is going to look like. It’s difficult to foresee a situation right now where everything’s just normal. And obviously, if it’s not normal we’re going to have to have conversations about it.”

I probably don’t have to connect these dots for you, but I will:

I think back in August, I probably thought – and maybe even the league thought – the country would be in a better place by now with the pandemic, which would afford more optimism about attendance and revenues for 2021 many months in advance. Right now, there is no reasonable optimism, only fiercely guarded caution and uncertainty. So, like my thread above indicates, this ain’t going anywhere good.

It was already the case that the league and the players would have to negotiate certain rules for the 2021 season – ideally sooner rather than later – and so the positive folks among you could say, hey, this was all coming to a head anyway, and it’s better that they start teeing these things up ASAP. Maybe they can start the real negotiations immediately this time around, rather than waiting through months of barbs traded through the media!

… come on, now. Really? With what was going to be the most contentious CBA negotiation even before the pandemic? With owners that now almost certainly want to institute a revenue-share model like the other leagues, which will come with a salary cap? With the ability to dig in their heels to hold out for that in 2021 to tie it into the longer CBA negotiations?

Realistically, I see only two paths now that the league and owners are already sounding the alarms about how terrible things are:

(1) The sides start negotiating ASAP, and because of the uncertainty of 2021+, combined with the already-existing animus about how to share money in 2022+, that turns into public fighting that lasts the entire offseason, culminating in a work stoppage at Spring Training (which probably doesn’t get resolved until fans can return in large numbers); or

(2) The sides quietly hope things look better for the country over the next few months, allow the offseason to proceed with total uncertainty and the current CBA rules dictating, and then try to patch together a 2021 agreement (like the March Agreement last year) in February/March. If they can’t get a patched deal together, there still might be a work stoppage, because I’m not sure the owners will want to proceed under the current CBA for a no-fan season (and I’m also not sure you wouldn’t see a whole sea of pissed off, unemployed players at that point).

Those paths both suck. I hope I’m wrong, and instead there are useful, calm, cooperative, quiet conversations over the next few weeks that allow some if-this-then-that plans to be put into place, which in turn affords teams and players the ability to proceed through this offseason. The league and the players, finally seeing each other as partners to grow the game, rather than adversaries!

But again I say: what evidence do we have that it could happen like that? We’ve seen this playbook before, and it starts with the league talking about massive losses and mountains of debt and oh-our-past-years-weren’t-actually-all-that-good.

While I don’t think owners should necessarily be asked to take massive losses again with NO regard for the expense side of the ledger, I also don’t think the owners should use the coming talks as an entree to another huge “win” in the CBA negotiations. That’s my biggest fear, really. That the owners try to leverage some legitimate concerns about another brutal financial year in 2021 into a huge score against the players in a 2022 CBA that could last five+ years. Because if it’s clear to the players from the outset that the CBA is really the thing? Then this just gets ugly, and next year is uglier still, regardless of the fans in the stands.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.