Latest MLB lockdown: Spring training likely delayed
69 days separate the day Major League Baseball initiated a lockout with the MLB Players Association and today. And with just 52 days until the scheduled start of the 2022 season, baseball fans are a long way from seeing the end of the lockdown.
Since the start of the lockout, MLB and the MLBPA have not engaged in meaningful discussions. It’s only been in the past two weeks that the two sides have even sat down to talk about the major issues that need to be resolved.
However, those conversations haven’t resulted in much progress and the lack of progress is starting to cause many concerns that spring training, and potentially, the regular season won’t start on time.
So when should baseball fans seriously start worrying about a delayed 2022 baseball season? I wrote an article on December 3, just days after Major League Baseball launched the lockdown, which said:
“The next 60 to 90 days will provide a clearer answer to the question of games lost. Opening day is March 31, and all players report to spring training by the end of February. A new agreement with the ABC will have to be concluded by March 1 in order not to lose any games.
Looking at the calendar, we are only three weeks away from March 1 and there is not much hope that the lockdown will end before then.
Many believe that February 19 is the deadline to implement a new CBA to avoid any delays in spring training. While a delay in baseball’s preseason doesn’t necessarily mean a delay in the regular season, fitting spring training into a shorter time window could cause injury, which neither fans nor neither players nor team owners want to see.
What is Hold-Up?
The central questions remain of an economic nature: free will; changes to arbitration; revenue sharing; and the luxury tax threshold.
It must be said, however, that while the league has been firm in its stance that all of these issues are not up in the air, the MLBPA has made some concessions.
The players have entirely abandoned their proposal to change the rules of free agency. The MLBPA wanted to change the current free agency structure to allow players to reach free agency earlier in their careers.
The players have also changed their request regarding revenue sharing. In its initial proposal, the AP requested a $100 million reduction in revenue sharing, which allows teams in larger markets to transfer revenue to teams in smaller markets. Now he is only asking for a $30 million cut.
And while this is a very important issue for the MLBPA, the players even made some concessions to his proposal regarding time on duty.
Yes, the league has agreed to sit down at the table to discuss certain economic issues. The league offered players a minimum salary of $615,000, an increase from the current minimum of $570,500. However, that was to be expected, as average salaries have fallen in each of the past four seasons.
While the league has offered a bonus pool for pre-offer players (those in the first three years of team vetting) who perform well, the league only wants that money pool to be $10 million, far from the player’s original proposal of $105. million (the players have since lowered their proposal to $100 million).
Again, neither side moves much. But, if you keep the score at home, the players have certainly conceded more so far.
Given all the back-and-forth over the past two weeks, the MLBPA was expecting a counterproposal from Major League Baseball late last week. Instead, the league offered players the option of using a federal mediator to help resolve the standoff between the two sides.
Why would the league want federal mediation? Well, it’s a win-win for MLB. If the players say no, they look like the ones who don’t want to end this lockout. If the players say yes, the mediation burns a few more weeks, which benefits the owners.
As expected, the MLBPA say no to federal mediation. Why would players say yes?
First, the players believe (and you can’t really argue with them) that they have conceded more than the owners so far. Any compromise or meeting strategy resulting from the mediation would then favor the owners.
Second, it would take a few weeks to catch up with a mediator on the intricacies of the negotiations so far.
The more time passes, the more it benefits the owners. While neither side wants a delayed season, the owners are generally in much better financial shape than the players.
Finally, and most importantly, the precedent for mediation in baseball collective bargaining is not one that favors player association.
Did it work?
Federal mediation has proven useful in labor negotiations in other sports leagues. NHL players and owners still praise Scot Beckenbaugh for his role in ending the NHL lockout in 2013. He would be the favorite to referee that baseball lockout.
But for the sport of baseball, mediation has been an absolute disaster. Bill Usery was brought in to mediate the 1994-95 strike. After 4.5 months of mediation, Usery came to nothing. President Bill Clinton himself had to get involved.
Tom Glavine, a union leader at the time, said: “We were willing to compromise, and we showed it. But Mr. Usery’s proposal was outrageous in many cases. We would give things that we have been on strike for before. Mr. Usery could not answer any questions about the meaning of much of his proposal.
Says Gene Orza, one of the union’s top lawyers at the time:[The mediators] came up with what they thought was a halfway proposal, which the owners jumped all over. The owners approved the mediators’ proposal in about a minute and a half.
Don Fehr, then head of the MLBPA, said of Usery’s mediation simply, “It was a joke.”
Safe to say the players just don’t trust federal mediation to work.
After the MLBPA turned down the opportunity to use a federal mediator, the league will meet in the coming days to come up with the terms of its own counter-proposal, which the players were waiting for last week.
The league’s counter proposal is expected to arrive next week. More on this story as it unfolds.
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