Today was a big one in the lockout, not because anything unexpectedly consequential happened, but instead because something completely expected was formalized: Spring Training games been moved off the schedule.
Although the word MLB used in its announcement is “postponed,” it’s pretty well set that none of those games before March 5 will be made up. It’s a big blow to the local economies, a mild blow to the owners, and a disappointing blow to the idea that baseball doesn’t let itself get negatively impacted by labor issues anymore. It was something they held onto as a badge of honor since 1995, but now it’s gone, officially, as of today. Hooray for history!
That March 5 date struck me as pretty notable, since we know that MLB has already set February 28 as the deadline to make a deal without regular season games being impacted. That means, in MLB’s view, a deal could be done on February 28, and then Spring Training GAMES could begin March 6. Do the math on that – it takes at least a day or two for guys to physically report, and then at least a day or two of … you know, practice, before they can start playing games (even fake games). So, that would mean Offseason Part Two would be, oh, about one day. Maybe two.
In other words, it’s clear that the owners have taken the position that a second offseason is not actually necessary. A convenient position for them, given that such an absurdly ridiculous crunch will leave players scrambling to get any deal they can, thus driving price tags down.
That’s just talking about free agency, by the way, and doesn’t even contemplate things like international players getting visa situations squared away (I guess they’ll be late?), COVID protocols being implemented (I guess no one cares?), arbitration figures being exchanged/cases held (I guess that’ll spill into the season?), and trades being finalized (I guess everyone assumes there were backchannel talks during the lockout anyway?). I could go on, but I think my parentheticals gave you the gist: I think it’s pretty ridiculous to have almost no additional offseason. It’ll be wild and crazy and fun for fans (even more than the last two days before the lockout, and those were WILD), but I think it’s really got the potential to suck for the players and risks injuries and unfairness. So keep an eye on this, though it’s not like we can assume a deal will get done next week, even as the owners and players will potentially meet every day.
Speaking of those meetings, here’s at least some of what the ownership contingent will look like on Monday:
New York #Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, Boston #RedSox owner John Henry, Colorado #Rockies owner Dick Monfort and San Diego #Padres vice chairman Ron Fowler are expected to be in attendance next week for the #MLB and #MLBPA negotiations.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 18, 2022
That’s a couple of the heaviest hitters in the league, plus a very aggressive spender in Fowler. As for Monfort, well, the reputation precedes him a bit. In any case, hopefully that group is something of a signal that the owners want to get serious about making the kinds of moves necessary to strike a deal. Three of those four owners might actually not hate the luxury tax thresholds increasing a good bit, for example, and I tend to think that’s where the first move has to come from the owners in order for the players to more seriously engage.
The thing we don’t know is what the true pain points are for each side – how much loss they are willing to accept right now in order to secure a particular outcome on a particular term. We *hope* that Opening Day is the main pain point – and the players are certainly trying to make it so by ruling out expanded playoffs if any regular season games are missed – but it’s possible the real pain doesn’t come until a month of games have passed. Or two months. Or, gulp, I actually don’t want to think any further than that.
Speaking of the pain points, and what happens if a deal doesn’t get done in time to save Opening Day – this is why I’m really worried that next week will wind up mere eyewash:
This cannot be overstated… if — for whatever reason — the sides don’t reach a deal that puts the start of the MLB reg season on time, at that point the sides will dig in to try and inflict pain to get one side to break. Because once you lose one game, you might as well lose more
— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) February 18, 2022
As @bnicholsonsmith first reported yesterday, MLBPA has informed the league that if a full 162 is not played at full salaries they will pull their concession to agreeing to expanded playoffs off the table. That’s a big motivating factor for a deal to be reached next week.
— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) February 18, 2022
I just worry that the urgency won’t actually be there to make a deal next week, but everyone involved knows they have to try. And if a deal is not possible by Friday – the sides are SO FAR apart – it’s very hard to predict just how many regular season games could be missed. The difference for the owners between 0 and 1 is potentially enormous, thanks to the loss of the expanded postseason. The difference between 1 and 50 might not be nearly as large.