Reportedly, representatives for the players and the owners will be meeting this week (so, tonight or tomorrow?) to discuss a range of non-economic issues that have to be dealt with in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. I’ll be curious to hear what comes out of those discussions, but I expect it to be all pretty standard season stuff, and not even anything as exciting as rules talk.
In the meantime, some lockout bits to consider …
⇒ We have our first comment from a player – that I’ve seen – where the moving and/or shrinking of Spring Training is discussed as a real problem. “I’m not really looking forward to pushing spring training back,” lefty Rich Hill told Buster Olney on his podcast. “I think that’s ultimately what’s going to happen unless something drastic happens in the next couple of weeks here where we finally come to a decision and both sides have some Kumbaya and we can move forward. I think pushing spring training back, you’re putting guys at risk for injury during the season and the other side of it, too, is the development of guys who are coming up through the minor leagues …. It always works out with a regular spring training. Now with a shortened spring training, with a three-week schedule, I think we’re going to run into some problems. Unless there’s something done possibly with what they did in 2020 with adding another player onto the roster – I think it’s something that should be looked at, especially for the health of the players.”
⇒ The money quote from Hill, no pun intended: “Unfortunately, the health of baseball overall is going to suffer if we can’t really come to some decisions soon.”
⇒ With a change to Spring Training a virtual certainty at this point, you’re likely to see more players discussing the impact on their ramp-up for the regular season (and, personally, I’m not looking forward to yet another year of wondering whether a guy’s performance or health is a result of not having a proper, typical Spring Training). The players as a whole no doubt understand they want to get the best CBA they can, and being willing to hold out chronologically is part of that process (since the owners have already conceded they are willing to hold out and miss regular season games if it comes to that). At the same time, there’s going to be a balancing of interests here, since players know they need a proper amount of time to get ready for the season … but pitchers need it more than hitters … and players aren’t paid their salaries in Spring Training …
⇒ Anyway, that is all to say that I don’t know that every single player is going to be on precisely the same page when it comes to whatever happens with Spring Training. But, as far as I’m concerned, there does need to be substantial consideration given to player health. If that means the regular season has to be pushed back a bit to accommodate a regular Spring Training, then so be it. (And then I’ll just remain angry that the owners didn’t even come up with a (weak) counteroffer until a month and a half into the lockout … )
⇒ Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney wrote about the Cubs-specific considerations of the CBA, such as how changes to arbitration rules, postseason size, or the luxury tax might impact them. Then there’s the universal DH, which could impact the Cubs in the near-term (more rest for Willson Contreras, more flexibility on what to do at first base) and in the longer-term (interestingly, Owen Caissie and Bryce Ball come in for specific mentions).
⇒ Meanwhile, lockout talk has reached non-sports media, with CNBC dedicating a lengthy article to the topic today. I don’t know that it matters *a lot*, but given the entertainment environment in which MLB would like to continue to operate, getting negative attention at a national level for your sport can’t be a good thing. I would think this kind of attention, to the extent it continues or expands, would VERY SLIGHTLY apply a little more pressure.
⇒ The general tenor of the article, by the way, is broadly explaining the situation and the issues, and not-so-subtly discussing how it would be very bad if this dragged on into the season. A sample section:
The Associated Press reported the Cactus League, which is played in Arizona, had an economic impact of more than $600 million in 2018 from spring training games. That figure was roughly $363 million in the abbreviated 2020 session before the pandemic shut down sports.
Companies like Topps, which sold its trading card business to Fanatics for $500 million, also have a reason to be concerned. The company has historically used spring training games to shoot photos of players for its new products.
Then there’s the risk of pushing away fans.
“That’s the sad and disappointing collateral damage that should be considered now more than ever,” said Joe Favorito, a sports public relations guru and a sports business professor at Columbia University. “The fans are what this is about as much as the business side. And no sport, after what we’ve gone through the last couple of years, can afford to alienate fans with a long work stoppage.”