At the stroke of midnight, as Wednesday turned into Thursday, the Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement expired. With no new deal, owners voted to approve an overdue, if not unnecessary, player lockdown, freezing not just a five-alarm hot stove, but an entire $10 billion+ industry.
Okay, now what?
MLB’s first work stoppage since the 1994-95 strike is an awful, horrible, unnecessary and very bad look at everyone from commissioner Rob Manfred and the billionaire owners he works for to the Association’s executive director. players Tony Clark and his voters. Manfred said so at a Thursday press conference in Dallas, calling the lockdown “bad for our business.”
But it is above all a negotiation strategy. Spring training is in two and a half months; players are not due another paycheck before the start of the season. Off-season business could have continued under the terms of the expired deal, as it did in 1994. The purpose, however, of a December lockout is to pressure the players into concluding deal sooner and give owners control over when to negotiate. sessions.
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Will it work? Check again.
During this time, there is a transaction freeze. Although teams can discuss trades, club employees are prohibited from any contact with major league players. This includes coaches who were assisting injured players in their rehabilitation. Players are banned from team facilities. The major league portion of winter meetings next week in Orlando, Fla., is canceled. Team officials are not authorized to comment on players to the media. MLB.com hastily deleted all player stories and photos on 40-player rosters.
With few other topics for discussion, prepare for as much discussion as possible on “competitive integrity,” “time on duty,” “revenue sharing,” and “expanded playoffs,” among other topics.
Here’s what you need to know about MLB’s labor crisis.
A bigger bite of apple. The average major league salary has fallen 6.4% since 2017, according to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, MLB has posted record revenues, hitting $10.7 billion in 2019. Players want a level playing field.
This will require a massive overhaul of an economic system that disadvantages less experienced players by requiring three years of major league service to be eligible for salary arbitration and six years for free agency. But that’s not even the players’ biggest gripe.
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The root of the problem, according to many players, is what Max Scherzer described on Wednesday as “a competition problem”. Players think there aren’t enough teams actively trying to win — and therefore not paying big salaries — because the CBA rewards the worst teams with the best amateur draft picks and the most chances. money to sign them. The number of teams with 95 defeats has increased from three in 2011 and four in 2012 to eight in 2018 and six this year.
“Adjustments have to be made in order to bring out the competition,” Scherzer said during a Zoom call to announce his record deal with the New York Mets. “As players, it’s absolutely essential for us to have a highly competitive league. When we don’t have that, we have problems.
Two words: expanded playoffs.
The owners proposed a 14-team field, according to the New York Post, after nine seasons with a 10-team format. The move would increase revenue from ticket sales and especially TV deals and put more money in everyone’s pocket.
But players are concerned that granting more teams entry into the playoffs will create less of an incentive for owners to spend. If teams can enter the playoffs with 85 wins instead of 90, some may attempt to compete on a lower payroll.
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Manfred is hyper-focused on pitch changes, like a pitch clock, that will make games more fun to watch. But he said on Thursday those issues were set aside for now to keep the focus on the economy.
Owners are mostly happy with the status quo. But given their appetite for the expanded playoffs, players will likely withhold endorsement in exchange for something substantial, like a change to the draft system or free agency based on factors other than time on duty.
Some owners may get nervous over they can’t sell tickets for next season. But it would seem a lot harder to unify 1,200 players — many of whom don’t stay in the majors long enough to bank the millions available in free agency — than 30 billionaire owners.
The players united last year to demand 100% of their wages for every game they played during the 60-game schedule. And to hear Scherzer tell it, they’re hell-bent on making it, too, whether they’re earning $600,000 a year or $43.3 million, his new Mets annual salary.
“We’re absolutely committed to doing this,” said Scherzer, who serves on the MLBPA’s executive subcommittee. “When I hear all the players, whether young or old, they all say the same thing, from club to club. It’s not just me who thinks that. It’s everyone. C is obvious to all players.
Scherzer added that players have been preparing to fight since the last CBA was ratified, and the union has amassed “a pretty good war chest” over the past five years to help mid-level and lower players in the event. where a stop drags on.
Yeah. Consider the back-and-forth rhetoric at the start of lockdown.
Manfred accused the players of making an “aggressive set of proposals” which are “bad for the competitive balance” because they would make it harder for teams from smaller markets to compete. He also claimed that the players had rejected landlord concessions to increase young player salaries, eliminate free agency-related draft compensation, create a universal designated hitter, and create an NBA-like draft lottery.
“We made a proposal [Wednesday] that, had it been accepted, I think it would have provided a pretty clear path to a deal,” Manfred said.
At a separate press conference Thursday, Clark disagreed with that characterization.
“Right off the bat, it seems like the league is more interested in the appearance of the negotiation than the negotiation itself,” Clark said.
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So, no, a new deal won’t be done in days, which is why so many free agents rushed between Black Friday and Cyber Monday to sign contracts. Teams whipped up eight- and nine-figure offerings like leftover stuffing and cranberry sauce. Total spending in November was about $1.7 billion.
There is plenty of time before either side starts losing money and too many fundamental issues at stake for the future of the sport to rush this process. But if there’s no CBA in place before, say, Super Bowl LVI, it’s time to activate DEFCON levels.
Like all teams, the Phillies can’t meet the needs of the 40-man roster until the lockout is over. And other than finalizing one-year deals Wednesday night with reliever Corey Knebel and infielder Johan Camargo, they were quiet during this week’s free agent frenzy.
“It’s a situation where we’ve had a lot of active discussions, but that’s it,” baseball operations president Dave Dombrowski said. “Winter is still long.”
There are also plenty of mid-range hitters left in the free agent market, from Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant to Nick Castellanos and Michael Conforto. These players are also on hold now. And when the lockout ends, there will be another round of signings.
The wait will be the most difficult – and for an entire industry, the most painful – part.