While it has generally been accepted that MLB’s approach to CBA negotiations during the lockout have involved a desire to either get a massively favorable deal (their third such CBA in a row), or cancel a significant chunk of the less-profitable early part of the season. All behaviors since November suggest that was the approach.
But even as that suspected plan pretty clearly played out in reality this past week, and even as the players ultimately did reject a deal that would not have moved the ball nearly enough for them, it’s important to remember that just as “the players” are not just one guy, “the owners” are also not just one guy. They are 30 different groups in different markets with different revenue pictures and different incentives. Like it or lump it, you do have to build coalitions within their ranks to actually get a deal done, no matter how fair or unfair we might deem the various offers. That’s not excusing what the owners have done by any stretch. It’s just acknowledging a bargaining reality in this sport.
With that in mind, I think it is useful – but hold that thought – to know how many owners were actually on board with MLB’s “best” offer, rejected by the players, before the Monday deadline that led to cancelled games:
Before delivering "best and final offer," 30 MLB owners gathered on a Zoom call, per 3 sources.
4 voted no, because they thought it was too generous (!).
More will vote no if CBT over $220. So, a DOA offer was too high for some owners.
— Andy Martino (@martinonyc) March 3, 2022
Let me state up front that I don’t doubt this is factually true. But I’m not sure how much it actually tells you, because you have to keep at least a couple things in mind:
1.) This is a pretty intimate detail to be leaking out from the owners’ meeting, which suggests they aren’t too upset with it being out there. And, convenience would have it, the fact that raising the CBT (aka the luxury tax) at all might cause too many owners to vote no and make a deal impossible means “obviously the players have to just accept a $220M first year starting tier CBT.” In other words, this could be a strategic bit of negotiating through the media.
2.) It’s one thing to vote no when you know you’re probably not going to be the deciding vote and blow things up for 20+ other owners than want a deal done. It’s another thing to be that deciding vote, and then to stand firm in the face of further discussion from the other owners. It’s conceivable that if things get to a point where there are enough owners voting no to hold things up, the further discussion will kick in, and not all of the no votes will stay no.
On that second one: that’s just a general voting point. So I can’t go too far with it. Indeed, we already KNOW (er, well, strongly suspect … ) that there could be a group of eight-ish smaller-market owners that are truly driving this bus. And if they do find an offer to be unpalatable to their particular money-making situation, then they really might band together and stand firm on a no vote.
HOWEVA, here’s the thing: if there are 22 other owners that truly like the deal and want to get it done, then there are likely ways to negotiate among the owners to modify a term here or there to appease enough smaller-market guys to get a deal done (in ways that don’t negatively impact the terms for the players). I don’t want to speculate on specifics, but if you’re a small market owner and you know you ARE the swing vote, AND you know there’s some way your fellow owners could hook you up with some incentive to change your mind, you might “vote no,” but then let them know you’re willing to be “persuaded.”
That is all to say, I wouldn’t actually take TOO MUCH away from this report that there are four owners who voted no on that offer, and more might vote no if the CBT is increased. It just feels too convenient to me, and it also feels like there are too many plausible ways for the owners’ camp to fix that. (Another report underscoring the critical importance of the luxury tax, by the way.)
There is a flip side that does have truth, though, and we’ve said it again and again: it takes only eight owners to blow up a deal, so there almost certainly ARE LIMITS on what the other owners and the Commissioner could actually get done. The players will have to understand that at a strategic level, and simply try to get the best deal that is possible.
On the CBT, specifically, my gut says they can get that first year, first tier to $230 million, but with much smaller increases over the next four years than they’re hoping. Where there should be a lot more play – and what doesn’t get discussed enough – is where the second and third tiers land (what if you jacked those ones way up?), and what the non-tax penalties are for exceeding the CBT. There is a deal to be made that satisfies all the parties because of the BALANCE of these factors. It isn’t all about that one first year, first tier number.
For now, I don’t know that any of this matters, though, because we believe there are enough owners that are content to miss approximately the first month of the season, at a minimum, before they would feel any real financial pressure to get a deal done.
In other words, while I think the stuff from the “best and final” offer on Monday is interesting to break down and discuss, I think everything kinda recalibrates going forward, because the situation has fundamentally changed now that we’re into missing-games mode.
Representatives for the two sides got back together today to re-start discussions, though really negotiations would have to take place this weekend if we are to avoid any more game cancellations. My back-of-the-napkin math says if there’s no deal by Sunday night (and there won’t be), that’s when the next round of games gets chopped off the schedule.