Owners Respond to Players with the Word "Deadlocked," And I Think We're in for Another Game of Chicken

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Owners Respond to Players with the Word “Deadlocked,” And I Think We’re in for Another Game of Chicken

Chicago Cubs

I almost want to present MLB’s statement today without comment, because its deconstruction is largely, to me, self-explanatory. I will offer comments, however. A lot of them, apparently, given how much I just wrote below this introductory paragraph.

In response to the players’ latest offer, which did move the ball, MLB’s spokesperson offered this (presumably) with a straight face:

Set aside most of the substance for a moment, and just consider that MLB has decided to go back to this phase of the lockout. The phase where they are issuing nasty public statements instead of just trying to work things out. Consider what this behavior implies about how long the owners are clearly prepared to sit things out. It’s a lot of games.

I can’t say it’s “more than I thought,” since I always thought a June 1 Opening Day was a horrifyingly reasonable possibility. It’s just, well … I guess it’s just that I hate it. I can’t believe how willing so many of these owners are to risk driving their own sport off a cliff. How willing they are to keep saying eff you to the fans of their own teams. It just isn’t a world I’ll ever fully understand.

Back to the statement. Coming out publicly with this statement – and using the word “deadlocked” – immediately after reviewing the offer makes a couple things relatively clear: (1) the most plausible explanation for MLB’s collective behavior since November is still that many owners affirmatively want to miss at least a couple months of the season (I know, it sounds crazy, but it has been apparent for a while); and (2) the owners may feel their best shot at an overwhelming win in the CBA negotiations is via the courts.

If that latter approach is really what the owners want, then they may declare an impasse in the negotiations, attempt to impose their “best” offer, which would lead to a legal battle, and that whole process will have to play out. I am far from an expert on this, so we’ll dig in further if it actually happens, but the short version is that I cannot see a way the labor board and court process could play out (if it goes to completion) faster than several months, and maybe quite a bit longer. In other words, if the owners wind up seeing fit to push this all the way through the legal process, it’s very possible the entire 2022 season is lost.

(The pain inflicted on fans – and the loss of marginal fans – is already dramatic. Disastrous, as Rob Manfred has said. But a whole season? I tend to think the damage would be so significant that no one could really speculate on it meaningfully as we sit here today. The world is so different from 1994-95, and we already know how bad that was. This would be markedly worse. How much worse? I have no idea.)

Before you accuse me of being entirely about the DOOM, I will say that even if this does start going to legal route, that tends to be only another pressure point for negotiations. All part of this perverse process. A settlement, eventually, would still be much more likely than actually seeing that process all the way through and losing the season. But it would cost multiple months from here, without question.

For their part, the players obviously don’t agree with the league’s statement about today’s offer and the state of things:

These are *MAJOR* concessions. There cannot be dispute on this point from anyone who follows the business of baseball with even a passing interest. The players feel emboldened not to go much further in their offers because they are right.

So, my best guess from here is that we are back to a game of chicken. The fourth big one, by my count. The first game, which was the lockout (mild pain to the players because of the transaction freeze and the inability to train normally), wound up with no movement at all. The second game, which was the loss of much of the paying portion of Spring Training (pain to the owners) wound up with no meaningful movement. The third game, which was the loss of Opening Day (pain to both sides in uneven amounts, depending on the specific player or the specific owner), brought the sides closer to a deal, but the players pretty clearly moved much more reasonably than the owners (which further suggests that the owners believed the pain was much more toward the players).

The fourth game, now, is probably the RSN rebate issue. It has been reported that most MLB teams do not have to start issuing rebates to broadcast networks for lost games until the number of lost games reaches about 20 (it varies among the many agreements, so that’s just a rough number). Prior to that point, the pain being inflicted is pretty obviously more severe on the players than it is on the owners, in the aggregate (it varies owner to owner, and is probably more painful for a high-attendance, owner-partly-owned RSN club like the Cubs). But after that point, when the owners start losing their broadcast revenues in addition to the gate revenues that accompany improving weather? That’s when the pain starts to even out, and might even tilt more in the other direction.

If you work backwards from approximately 20 regular season games and include a four-week Spring Training and one week for reporting/offseason transactions/etc., then you wind up somewhere right around March 18 as the date by which a deal would have to be done in order to NOT get to the rebate cutoff (again, that’s a VERY ROUGH date because the rebate deadlines are not the same for every team, and there is considerable debate about how much Spring Training is actually necessary and how long the pre-Spring Training period needs to be – there’s probably a week of flex in there, overall).

So, then, you can see why the owners might still be willing to issue contentious statements, and dawdle about getting a deal done. They are content to play another game of chicken for another, what, 10 to 15 days? Maybe even compel the players to start the legal process in the meantime?

If THAT game of chicken doesn’t result in a deal, then the fifth probably comes in the lead-up to June 1, when games really start to become significantly profitable for all teams across the board, AND your ability to stage a credible season in advance of the postseason (where the big money is) is compromised. That’s why a lot of us keep pointing to June 1 as a pretty significant date.

Given the way the sabers just got rattled by MLB after the latest player proposal, I now tend to think this RSN rebate game of chicken will not be the one to get the deal done, either. Unfortunately, I think we’re probably in for that fifth game of chicken to start in a couple weeks.

At least they’re playing SOME games, AMIRITE?

(No, actually, this is not funny at all, and it is aggravating past the point of my ability to put it into useful words. I guess that’s why I do stupid jokes. I am … whatever the word is for apoplectic times five.)

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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.