Ever since word dropped that MLB had pegged Monday, February 28 as the deadline by which a new Collective Bargaining Agreement must be ratified in order to preserve a full regular season, any public notation of that deadline has frequently been accompanied by some variation of: “the MLB Players Association doesn’t necessarily agree with that date.”
I had been attributing that fact to the players simply wanting to preserve some negotiating leverage this week – don’t let yourself be pressured into a deadline. That’s most of it, I’m sure.
As we get closer to next Monday, though, I’m now also wondering if the disagreement on a deadline is actually at least as much about the players knowing Spring Training (and its games) is primarily of financial value only to the owners, and not the players (who don’t get paid in the spring). So of course the owners want to be able to preserve as much of Spring Training as possible – they not only have tickets to sell and some games to broadcast, but they also have municipal stakeholders in Arizona and Florida who are undoubtedly pretty pissed right now. So the players, by not agreeing that February 28 is actually a deadline to get a deal done (and by saying expanded playoffs are off the table if a single regular season game is lost), are applying even more pressure to the owners: we think a deal can get done a little later and not have the regular season lose any games.
This all started going through my head because there is now the first breadcrumb being dropped that, yeah, February 28 might not actually be a deadline for preserving 162 games, even if Opening Day is delayed:
Could the regular season start late, but still include 162 games? If the sides agreed to play seven-inning doubleheaders on some days, then theoretically, they could buy themselves more time to reach a deal. https://t.co/29X6zhsE1J
— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) February 23, 2022
Before MLB dropped the February 28 negotiating deadline, a variation of what Drellich writes about is what I’d been assuming was potentially on the table all along: a deal doesn’t get done until mid-March, and rather than chop games off the schedule, the league could bump Opening Day back by a week (or whatever) and make up the difference between scheduled doubleheaders and back-end adjustments.
That’s what I thought before, anyway.
Here’s the problem as I see it now, though. Time isn’t the only thing working against the sides in making a deal. Clearly, the owners were happy to push this thing right up to the season because they thought the pressure would get them some leverage (hence the lockout, and waiting 43 days before making an initial offer). So, to them, I don’t think it’s a matter of needing more time, it’s a matter of trying to get the players to capitulate under the threat of losing game checks.
Moreover, I tend to think there are some owners – and it takes only eight of them to block a deal – who would much rather lose some April games entirely than make them up as part of doubleheaders. I would call that a long-term foolish position for the sport, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there are some owners for whom April games are not profitable. So any chance to save some short-term bucks might be welcomed. (That, by the way, is why the players have been wise to tie expanded postseason to the loss of even a single regular season game.)
So, anyway, the long story short here is that it is probably the case that the failure to reach a deal by Monday, February 28 wouldn’t immediately rule out the ability to stage a full, 162-game season. The players have decent reasons for not agreeing to that deadline. But I’m not so sure that having a few extra days to negotiate is going to matter to a number of the owners when the rubber meets the road. I worry that, for a number of them, trying to squeeze the union further and starting the season on June 1 isn’t really a big deal.