Sometimes the Most Cynical Take is Also the Correct One

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Sometimes the Most Cynical Take is Also the Correct One

Chicago Cubs

I wondered what the landscape of articles on the lockout would be this morning, a day after writers had a chance to talk to sources on both sides about a terrible Saturday session, collect their thoughts across the entirety of these CBA negotiations. I had a feeling it was going to be bad, but it goes even further than I expected: by and large, the towel has been thrown in on a deal by tomorrow night, even by folks who had some optimism about a deal as recently as two days ago.

The way I read Ken Rosenthal’s latest, Evan Drellich’s latest, Bob Nightengale’s latest, and Maury Brown’s latest (and on and on) is that a deal is not going to happen, and everyone knows it at this point. These are informed reporters who don’t write these things if they thought there was a realistic chance the season would start on time, and we would get 162 games. They, like many of the rest of us, have finally planted the flag: games are going to be lost, and it is maddening. To say the least.

You can seemingly read the frustration in their words, not just because writing about the sport is a part of their livelihood – though that is no doubt a component – but because they seem truly perplexed by MLB’s approach. Not perplexed in the sense that they are confused; perplexed in the sense that no one outside of MLB’s ownership and negotiating circle can quite believe they are perfectly willing to lose games this year. I get why they’re doing it (a few extra short-term bucks in this CBA and likely the next one), but I cannot get why they don’t see the entertainment landscape of the next ten years if they keep fighting for bigger pieces of a pie they are forcibly shrinking.

I found it interesting to mull this point about the luxury tax offers last night, and how much it says about this whole lockout:

Like so much that has preceded it, that offer sure looks like an intentional middle finger from the owners to the players, doesn’t it?

Then, in the MLB-approved write-up of negotiations at MLB.com, an owner source confirmed that it WAS INDEED a middle finger: “They made a bad CBT proposal and we responded in kind,” a league source said.

(That league source, of course, willfully ignoring that the players’ move on the CBT matched the owners’ last move, and that the owners’ proposed CBT all along has included WORSE penalties than were in the previous CBA. So who, exactly, mad a bad CBT proposal? Not to mention that the players’ offer also included a massive drop in the Super Two request and the removal of their request to shrink revenue-sharing by $30 million.)

The luxury tax – the CBT – and the league’s behavior around it does kinda feel like it works well to sum up how things have gone, where things stand now, and the extreme unlikelihood of reaching a deal any time soon.

I have tried very hard throughout this process to be fair to both sides, and let only the available information guide my perspective and analysis. To that end, I do want to note that the owners have offered to remove the recidivism penalties for being over the tax (i.e., it gets worse each successive year you’re over), and that does improve the situation. Now, if the owners also removed the non-monetary luxury tax penalties, this whole CBT discussion might look different (they partly have, since draft pick compensation is being removed entirely, but they want to leave draft pick costs attached to exceeding tiers two and three of the CBT). If the *ONLY* penalties for exceeding the luxury tax were financial – even at rates that climbed from the past deal – then there might be a reasonable argument for moving the thresholds up only slightly.

… but that isn’t the case. You have to evaluate the totality of the luxury tax setup, and to date, it has looked much worse than the previous CBA, which already needed improvement. This is why a lot of us have been so focused on the luxury tax throughout this whole lockout, even as the sides declined to seriously engage on it until just a few days before the MLB-imposed deadline. We knew it was going to be massively contentious, but was also massively important. And, viewing it from the outside, it has the look of MLB being the party that did not ever want to seriously engage on it (while also taking free agency, arbitration, and revenue sharing completely off the table). It makes no sense.

Well, unless you were never trying to make a deal before regular season games are lost.

Here’s how Evan Drellich put it in his column entitled, “Opening Day Never Had a Chance” (emphasis added):

The most cynical read is that the owners want to break the union, that they want to squash the players once and for all, or at the least discourage them from taking up such fights again anytime soon. Indeed, it is a suspicion held by some on the players’ side — and also the kind of viewpoint that those on the players’ side could effectively embellish as a rallying cry. But so far, what evidence is there otherwise? The league would suggest that its offers to date improve the players’ lot. It is true that in some individual areas, the league has proposed changes that would be positive for players relative to what was in place before (never mind for a moment that in one area in particular, the luxury tax, the league has proposed an onerous step backward).

Yet, the standard the players are considering, and that probably any reasonable person would consider, is typically not whether there is any improvement, but whether the improvement is enough to be considered fair. Whether it matches their sense of what should be.

We could be WRONG that owners have always wanted to crush the union so completely (and many would be content to lose some games and expenses in the process). It could be that they really do think they are making fair offers that we just don’t have enough information to understand. But, of course, if that were really the case, don’t you think that would be leaking out by now? Don’t you think some league sources would be underscoring it in their official write-ups at MLB.com? Don’t you think the league would NOT be saying, yeah, we gave them a middle finger on the CBT?

In other words, it is deeply cynical to believe that the owners never wanted anything remotely close to a fair deal, and always knew they were going to cancel a chunk of the season. But that is also the perspective that is actually supported by the available evidence. No serious offers before the lockout. A unilateral lockout immediately upon the expiration of the CBA. No proposals thereafter for six weeks. No meaningful – let alone significant – movement in offers since then. Unilaterally setting a deadline to make a deal or cancel games. Making offers that look like a middle finger in the days before that deadline. That’s just the evidence on the table. What conclusions are you supposed to draw? Yes, the players have taken some hard lines and have made some aggressive asks after two straight CBAs that turned out poorly for them. But then they actually MOVED on those positions. They made SERIOUS proposals. We have yet to see the same from MLB.

So the sides will talk again today, and nothing but more aggravation and ire will come from it. I doubt anyone is actually even thinking about making a deal at this point, and instead will use today to bolster whatever future positions are coming – either in negotiations in a month or so, or in a court battle. That, too, is a deeply cynical perspective, but …



Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.