Today’s bargaining session was exceptionally brief, even by lockout standards. It makes sense why that is: per multiple reports, the players’ offer changed only on a couple issues, so it wasn’t going to take long to share those changes with the representatives for MLB, and then adjourn.
The changes to the players’ offer were limited to: (1) Instead of asking for all players to get to arbitration after two years, it would be the players in the top 80% of service time between two and three years (essentially, up from 22% Super Two, currently); (2) the pre-arbitration bonus pool request was increased to $115 million, accounting for the fewer players who would be reaching arbitration in the 80% proposal.
That’s it. Only changes, and while that is still a give, it is a very small one overall. No movement on the luxury tax, minimum salaries, revenue sharing, service time manipulation, playoffs, or draft lottery.
Clearly, the players discussed the offer from the owners (last Saturday), and determined it was not a serious move, and essentially decided to stand pat. I don’t like it, as a fan, but I can at least understand it given how unreasonable MLB has been throughout this process.
As I’ve said before, the luxury tax is what grinds my gears the most: it was ALREADY a situation where the status quo needed to be changed DRAMATICALLY on either the thresholds for the luxury tax or the penalties. Yet the owners have stuck to a request to BARELY move the thresholds and DRAMATICALLY INCREASE the penalties. It’s been clear for weeks that they are trying to turn what was already a near-salary-cap into a yeah-that’s-a-salary-cap. To have not moved meaningfully on that two and a half months into the lockout is just not reasonable. The players are calling the owners out on it, effectively. And I think if the owners did move on that one issue, the players would return with real movements of their own.
So, what now?
Well, there is a second non-economic proposal expected tomorrow, though it’s not clear to what extent that even matters at this point. Yes, you want to cross those items off the list, but … it’s not like there’s a rush when the economics are so far apart. And it’s not clear when the owners will respond, but these things have tended to take almost a week between offers – even when the offer is barely a change at all – so I would tentatively expect the owners to respond mid-week next week, and barely move at all. Again.
MLB has reportedly set February 28 as the deadline for a deal in order for Opening Day to happen as scheduled, and the math on that checks out (a week-ish for Offseason Part Two, and four-ish weeks of Spring Training).
Thing is, we already know there’s no realistic shot at a deal being done by February 28, which is just a week and a half away. So either MLB is bluffing, or they are prepared to lose some games at this point. I tend to think both sides are now prepared to lose games, and – mostly in reference to the owners – I just find it remarkable. It’s like the real cost of this lockout and losing games is being completely ignored.
Suspect owners *think* they are proceeding with long-term view (CBA is 5 years, after all), but in reality what's happening right now risks doing enormous damage to longer-term fan base (which was already in rapid decline!).
How much is a team worth if nobody watches the sport?
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) February 17, 2022
Imagine getting hyped for an MLB season that begins on June 1 after a six month lockout that followed two pandemic seasons. That's the world this league seems to be comfortable relying upon. It is … not a great idea.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) February 17, 2022
I stand by those angry in-the-moment tweets, but I do think there’s something I need to add to them here.
I have mentioned it before, but I feel like it isn’t getting enough attention as the CBA negotiations continue to stagnate: owner approval requires 23 of 30 owners to sign off. That means a group of just eight owners – you could pick a group pretty easily – could stand together and wholly shut down changes to the luxury tax or revenue sharing or arbitration or whatever.
Yes. This is accurate. https://t.co/iSpE1RWjnX
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 17, 2022
To be sure, it is up to the other owners and Commissioner Manfred to get a coalition on board to make the CBA happen (you think the other owners want to start losing revenue because of a small group of holdouts?), but when we talk about “the owners want to do this” or “the owners want to do that,” we are probably being pretty imprecise. And it matters, because in-fighting within the ownership group could be a major factor in how intransigent the owners seem in their barely-moving-at-all offers. For all we know, a sizable chunk of the ownership base is also pissed at how this process has gone. I think that’s probably not the case – feels like that would’ve leaked by now, even as the owners have a reason to preserve a united front – but it’s possible.
If I had to guess, factions of each side made a strategic decision long ago that they were willing to lose X number of regular season games as long as they get to a certain level on a key issue or two. We don’t know how many games that is for each side – I think we naively thought it was 1 – but we do know that gate revenues are not as good in April and May as they are in June or July. So you can safely assume June is a bigger pressure point for the owners than May – in other words, once they’ve gone off the cliff in April, I tend to think May might go, too.
How and when TV partners get involved to impress upon MLB the importance of not losing games for the second time in three years, I really don’t know. I can’t fathom that they aren’t watching all of this with rage.
This morning, I was at 85% sure that Opening Day would not happen on time, and now I’m at 99%. I leave that 1% open because the “deadline” hasn’t passed yet, but I don’t really see how it’s plausible. The players are clearly much more resolute than in years past, and the owners – some of them, at least – are clearly not content to make a reasonable deal. They seem to want to crush the players for the third CBA in a row.