In a normal year that preceded the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the Players Association and MLB would have already long begun the process of negotiating the next deal to reduce the likelihood of a labor stoppage in the event of serious disagreements. But lingering effects of the pandemic forced these two sides to focus on the more immediate issue of the 2021 regular season, so those talks haven’t yet begun according to players union head Tony Clark (Washington Post). Bummer.
Considering (1) how poorly the last CBA was received by the union, (2) the ugly battle between the players and owners last summer, (3) the reduced revenues (and salaries) for everyone in 2020, and (4) the generally heightened sense of turmoil between the players and the owners … that’s not a great way to kick things off. If anything, you’d hope these two sides could’ve begun even SOONER than normal, but they had to focus on 2021. I get that. It stinks. But I get it.
In any case, Clark expects those talks to begin shortly after Opening Day, with an eye on completing them on time (the current CBA expires on December 1st, 2021). And if you’re looking for a speck of optimism, Clark did not seem to believe there’s any heightened tensions this time around, even pointing out that there are “professionals” on both sides of the table who do want to see something get done:
“There are always going to be differences of opinion. Always have been. Always will be. And unfortunately, I think much of it is a bit overblown,” Clark told the Washington Post. “There are professionals on our side, and there are professionals on their side. And we each have a focus and commitment on making sure that we represent our members, our constituents and the well-being of the game, hopefully.”
He says “unfortunately” the animosity is overblown, but I say that’s very fortunate, at least from a fan perspective. If the vibes behind the scenes are less antagonistic than the public posturing, things might be in a better position than we think! … I just don’t think that’s all too likely.
With big issues like the universal DH, expanded postseason, more pay for younger players, better incentives to pay older free agents, fighting against tanking, on-field rules … there is a LOT of ground to cover. Perhaps more than usual. Getting off to a late start in this environment just isn’t ideal, even if things aren’t exactly as terrible behind the scenes as we think.
But to that end, the Washington Post reports that some industry insiders reportedly believe that the league and union could still decide to extend the current CBA one more year to get a little more space between the pandemic and the negotiations (which seems smart).
But Clark didn’t seem to think that was necessary:
“Although the program and the schedule is a little different, there’s still an opportunity to address everything. And unless or until we get into the heavy lifting, we will determine at that point whether to what extent any adjustments to the schedule or otherwise will need to be made,” he said.
I think the more space between 2020 and the negotiations the better, but it probably is at least worth a try right now. An extension can come at any time, and at least, right now, both sides have very intimate knowledge of what the other side values most (they’ve basically been negotiating in one way or another for the past year). I do like to see that it’s on the table, though.
So bottom line, this will be a tough CBA to mint, and it is off to a late and rough start. But there’s still plenty of time to get it done before any poster boards are made or picket lines set. Nobody wants to go there.