The first two series of the MLB season were canceled this week. That blows and the last 3 or so days have been an emotional roller coaster. Monday night we had Bob Nightengale tweeting up a storm talking about how the PA and union were inching closer and closer to a deal, and the next day we were hit with this:
Awful. MLB has gutted itself over and over and over again. This is the latest example. I'm going to try to explain the situation in this blog from the best of my knowledge. When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred dropped his open letter to fans on Tuesday, I said I was going to take my time and write a blog that will break down these negotiations to the best of my knowledge through facts I've gathered from players, player reps, and agents. I would love to have access to the owner's perspective, but Jerry Reinsdorf won't return my texts. Guess you'll just have to keep following Nightengale if you want their $0.02 on the matter.
1. Main Characters:
Each side has its figurehead. The figurehead isn't necessarily leading the negotiations, more organizes their sides wants, asks, and demands and packages them for the other side. They also are typically the ones speaking at pressers. The two main figureheads are
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred:
Rob Manfred is employed by the owners. I don't really understand this part; Happ said in his interview with us on RLR that "it's unfortunate that Manfred only represents one side as commissioner like in the other major leagues" and that's dead on. Manfred SHOULD represent the game as a whole, but is instead paid $11,000,000 annually to be the mouthpiece for the owners.
MLBPA Head Tony Clark:
Tony Clark is the MLBPA head and had a 15 year MLB career himself. Like Manfred, he gathers all players wants, asks, and demands and packages them to propose to MLB. He's been the executive director of the MLBPA for about 8 years. This is the 3rd round of collective bargaining he's been at the forefront of, the first being in the 2015-16 offseason and most recently during the 2020 pandemic season.
For a fantastic breakdown of every single past CBA negotiation, what was at stake, and what was bargained, visit Baseball Prospectus.
2. There are also many side characters in these negotiations:
- Sr. Director of Collective Bargaining Bruce Meyer: While Clark is the braun of the PA, Bruce Meyer is the brains. He's worked in both the NHL and MLB and has an extensive background in labor law. If you want to take a dive into his employment history, here's his LinkedIn. It's important to note that he is the lead negotiator on the union's behalf.
- Dan Halem: The owners' version of Bruce Meyer
- Player reps: Each team has one player rep with a second alternate player available if need be. For the White Sox, it's Lucas Giolito. For the Cubs, Ian Happ. These players are the liaisons between their clubs and the MLBPA.
- Subcommittee reps: a group of 8 established players. Fransisco Lindor, Max Scherzer, Zach Britton, and others who report all that is happening in negotiations to the team player reps, who in turn fill in the rest of the 1200 players represented by the union.
- The owners: Each club has one person represent their ownership group. From what I gather, Kenny Williams has become the ipso/facto rep for the White Sox due to Reinsdorf being 86 years old now. That isn't confirmed but doesn't shock me, even though it'd be a little odd as he's a former player. That said, the Steve Cohens and Hal Steinbrenner's of the world represent their clubs. Easy peasy.
- Player agents, lawyers, and all those guys: self explanatory. These guys are typically a little more distant from the negotiations, but still involved as they want what's best for their guys.
- Scott Boras: the most powerful agent in all of sports. In 2020 alone, he negotiated over 3 BILLION dollars worth of contracts for his clients. He represents both the best players in the sport and the highest paid players in the sport. Whether anybody wants to say it out loud or not, I truly believe he absolutely has his hand in these negotiations. Probably a lot more than he should as he reps a small group of elite players. His guys are the 1% of baseball players & earners. Not the vast majority of players protected by the union.
3. Why can't these assholes agree to a deal?
This ain't gonna be the cliff note version here. This is a LONG part of the blog.
First and foremost, it's important to know that this is NOT a strike. A strike would be the players refusing to work until a new CBA is ratified. That is not the case for these negotiations. It has been said over and over and over again that the players would operate under the previous CBA until a new CBA is agreed upon and ratified.
This is also kinda/sorta happened in 1994. A CBA expired, a new one wasn't agreed upon by the time spring training rolled around, so each side agreed to the operate under the former agreement until they could hammer out a deal. Eventually, the players went on strike mid-season and the World Series was canceled. I don't remember it as I was only 5 years old at the time, but it was a black eye for the game. Perhaps the biggest black eye for the game in my lifetime.
Here's Frank Thomas' slash line through 113 games prior to the strike… woulda been one of the all time great offensive seasons
In a move that was seemingly a means to avoid a strike, the owners locked the players out back in early December. Any player on a 40 man roster cannot so much as enter a team facility or speak with their hitting coach until a new CBA is ratified. Owners claim they implemented this lockout as a way to speed up the negotiation process.
That didn't happen. It took two and a half months for any meaningful dialogue to take place between the sides. Needless to say, the majority of the strife was about the almighty dollar. Sorry, but MiLB players and pace of play and other shit just doesn't matter. Not to the Union, and not to the owners. It's always the dollar… it's always the fucking dollar.
With a new CBA, players want a bigger (more fair?) slice of the revenue generated by MLB. Owners don't really wanna give it to them, at least not to the players liking. After 2 and a half months of silence followed by a few weeks of "hard" (lol) bargaining, the players and MLB couldn't agree on core economic issues.
By "core economic" issues, I mean the following:
- higher minimum wages for pre-arbitration players (players with 3> years of service time)
- higher + escalating thresholds before hitting the competitive balance tax
- a newly established pre-arbitration & pool that would go to an X number of pre-arb players performing at peak levels
Once again, the rest of the shit, like universal DH, ain't really that important. That's all smaller shit that can and will be hashed out whenever.
As of Tuesday's deadline, here are where the two sides stand on these core points:
The core economic issues are where this gets REALLY yucky. For some reason, Eddie thinks it's absolutely hilarious every time I bitch about the owners' refusal to publicize their earnings to anyone at all, let alone the players' union. Back in 2020 this was a big sticking point; owners wanted to pay the players a less than 100% proration of their salaries for the 60 game season. Players refused anything less than 100% proration unless owners could prove how badly they were actually being financially gutted by the pandemic. In the end owners succumbed to players demand, and agreed to a 100% proration of salaries for a 60 game season with expanded playoffs. This Fangraphs article proved no organizations were losing money operating in the summer of 2020 without fans. In fact, it wasn't close.
That was an ugly negotiation in and of itself and anyone reading the tea leaves knew that the next winter was going to be U.G.L.Y on the labor negotiation front.
Fast forward to winter 2021-22 and here we are again: owners want to increase the competitive balance threshold a MARGINAL amount. For the 2021 season, the threshold was $214MM. Owners want the 2022-2024 thresholds to stay a flat $220MM. Owners cite revenues not allowing them to go to the players desired $238MM threshold, let alone the year over year increases to an eventual $263MM in the 2026 season.
There are some pros and a lot of cons to this. Let's discuss:
- the big dogs (Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, etc.) can't "buy" the best free agents year over year because they get penalized big time for doing so multiple years in a row. If a club exceeds the threshold 3 years in a row, they are taxed big time and start to lose draft picks. This is good for the Marlins, Reds, Rays, and Brewers of the world who can't keep up with teams that are capable of "unlimited" spending.
On paper, it sounds good right? Then we get into the cons of the CBT tax.
- The big fish teams that are over the CBT threshold year over year have to reset by dipping under it to stop accruing penalties. This takes the organizational big spenders out of the market for the biggest free agents some years.
Teams treat the tax as an ipso/facto hard salary cap and don't/won't spend on not just the A1 free agents to avoid the tax, but other free agents as well. You've seen me argue this with Yankees fans for the last few years who still think their organization can/will just buy every big name free agent on earth. It didn't work that way under the last CBA. This is why I told Yankees fans they weren't ever actually in the running for Harper or Machado the offseason those two were free agents.
Other recent examples of that threshold fucking over big name players are Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel. They each waited until after the trade deadline to sign with their teams (Braves and Cubs) to get paid what should theoretically be have been due for them that winter because of a combination of both their tenure in MLB and their effectiveness in MLB.
Then there are the cheap, yet effective players - like pitcher Ryan Tepera for instance - that can also get fucked over by this tax. Tepera should be due around $8MM for the 2023 season on an open market, but many teams would be inclined to roll the dice on whatever X AAA pitcher that still has options and can be paid league minimum while hopefully providing at least close to similar results to someone like a Ryan Tepera.
TL/DR: It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. I understand why this tax was established, and it was established with good intentions. Owners and front offices quickly found out how to game the system though.
And we haven't even gotten into service time manipulation.
If there were no taxes for the Yankees or Dodgers they'd be operating with $300MM payrolls, which is good for players. On the flip side, they'd be playing against the Reds and Brewers of the world with their $70MM payrolls. The competitive imbalance would be far too great and in the end, bad for the sport. Like Billy Beane said, "there are rich teams, there are poor teams, and there are 10 miles of shit, and then there's the Oakland A's".
The players' union goal isn't just to promote competitiveness though, it's to make sure player salaries keep pace with league earnings and revenues. A tax like this means front offices are going to whatever they can to stay under the tax by suppressing player salaries as much as possible which, to the players, is a BIG no-no.
It's just the nature of this particular beast.
4. Scott Boras:
I mentioned Scott Boras earlier. This affects his clientele the most as his sole goal is to get his clients - the best/most projectable players in the game - fucking PAID. The Reds and Brewers of the world are never going to operate with top 3-5 payrolls. That's just how baseball goes. The CBT doesn't affect them. It affects the top 5-6 payrolls every year, and if the CBT threshold only goes from $214MM to $220MM from now through the end of the 2024 season, we'll see a plateau of the best players salaries stick around the $300-350MM mark.
That is absolutely OUT OF THE QUESTION as far as Boras is concerned, and why I have a sneaky suspicion his hands are all over this negotiation and why there is no deal - as he's perhaps the most powerful man in the entire game - even if we're not hearing his name too much. He's not worried about the 70% of players who are making pennies on the dollar with respects to the rest of the league and the league minimums of other sports. He's worried about his small amount of players continually breaking contract records year over year. If you don't greatly heighten the CBT, that ain't gonna happen.
I think we'll look back on this in a few weeks/months/years and see that Scott Boras is one of the main reasons games were cancelled in the 2022 season. Not because he's some evil villain that hates baseball necessarily, but because his interests are different than yours and mine. He wants players making shit tons of money and to continue making shit tons of money for as long as he's doing his thing. If and when it's no longer him pulling strings, someone will step up and take his place anyways.
Time to take a deep breath and wrap this up
All of this comes full circle when you go back to 2016 when the league and PA ratified the CBA that just expired. That deal was fucking TRASH for the players. Like Happ said on the interview, it would have been near impossible for the players or union to forecast that this is how the CBA would have gone, but they now have to right their wrongs. That's why you see what might look like outrageous demands from players at a glance, when really, they're not.
Not at all. Every ask that I've seen the players make, especially when you reference how much money the Atlanta Braves make as the only publicly disclosed team in MLB, seems totally fair to me. The owners disagree.
But on the flip side… I kiiinnndddaaa get it from the owners side too… at least I'm trying to see both sides. They run businesses and want to maximize profits. They put money over winning and the health of the game, which sucks, but is the truth and unfortunately, their prerogative. They just don't really want major change because they've basically perfected the way of maximizing their bottom lines within the rules of the CBA that just expired. Most people agree that how others spend money and run business is, ya know, "their business"…
…but this is way, way more nuanced than that. People watch because of the players. Not the owners.
And that's why we're in the middle of this standoff. Players want their due, and owners don't want to give it to them. Right now, players are pulling a PaulieCiceroGoodfellas.GIF
As they should be. And the owners are digging their heels in. Round and round we go. It's all just a big merry-go-round.
I know this blog was long, but I wanted to take a few days and construct it with as much info and knowledge as possible for all those wondering why and how baseball got to this point.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic had a great article ripping MLB and the owners to shreds this week. I echo a lot of what he said and he's obviously as "in" as it gets. He was eerily quiet throughout the whole process, while others in the media (read: Bob Nightengale) were negotiating through the media on the owners' behalf. Owners wanted to win in the court of public opinion because they know the players fucked themselves by agreeing to the 2016 CBA and would want major changes, and changes that would affect their bottom lines, even with billions of new dollars coming in through new ad deals, TV deals, and other revenue streams.
Super shitty situation going on. Eventually they'll get something figured out. At this point, no idea when that is. I would be shocked if they don't play less than like… 150 games. But I said a month ago I'd be shocked if they missed any games at all, so who even knows at this point. All I know is that I'm really fucking sad as this is not only taking away my one true love, baseball, but it's taking away my one true love right in the middle of my favorite team's competitive window.
It all fucking sucks. Hopefully the owners OPEN THEIR GODDAMN BOOKS and the two sides meet in the middle ASAP. If I don't have baseball, I don't have a life. I'm just a tumbleweed blowing around in the desert.
With everything said, in the end… fuck the owners. If you replace the owners of 30 teams with 30 new owners, baseball would be the same or better. If you replaced 1200 players with the next best 1200 players, the quality of the product would GREATLY suffer and nobody would give a flying fuck about baseball anymore.
Give the players what they deem is fair and let's play some goddamn baseball.
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