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Saturday, January 22, 2022

MLB lockout has both sides standing firmly

Everything to know about the new CBA negotiations in baseball and what both sides are looking for in this round

By OMAR NAVARRO — sports@theaggie.org

When the Atlanta Braves closed out the Houston Astros to win the World Series on Nov. 2, it culminated the first full season after last year’s shortened year. With the lockout now underway, the threat of another shortened year looms across Major League Baseball (MLB).

On Dec. 2, the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players expired and after long negotiations, the owners chose to lock out the players and stop labor peace. This became the first time since 1994 that there was a work stoppage in baseball, and with many issues to cover, the negotiations will most likely be lengthy ones. With the lockout now in full effect, that means that the busy offseason, that saw many big free agents move, must come to a halt until this is solved. 

“Today is a difficult day for baseball, but as I have said all year, there is a path to a fair agreement, and we will find it,” said commissioner Rob Manfred in an open letter to fans. “I do not doubt the League and the Players share a fundamental appreciation for this game and a commitment to its fans. I remain optimistic that both sides will seize the opportunity to work together to grow, protect, and strengthen the game we love. MLB is ready to work around the clock to meet that goal. I urge the Players Association to join us at the table.”

Since the pandemic began, issues had risen between the Player’s Association and the owners when it came to money, among other topics. One of the more pressing issues aside from the competition issues is the fact that revenue for the league has gone up over the years, yet the average player salary continues to decrease. When a player comes into the league, the team holds their rights for six years but at the same time, manipulates the system in a way where they can keep players underpaid for longer periods of time as a way to save money. This is one of the more pressing issues that stands in a negotiation where neither side is willing to budge.

“It was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure Players into relinquishing rights and benefits, and abandoning good faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not Just Players, but the game and industry as a whole,” the MLBPA said in its statement. “These tactics are not new. We have been here before, and Players have risen to the occasion time and again — guided by a solidarity that has been forged over generations. We will do so again here.”

So what do the players want in these negotiations? Aside from a larger share of the growing revenue, there is a competition issue among some teams that does not sit right with players. Teams like the Rockies, Pirates and many others have taken advantage of the absence of a salary floor and remain uncompetitive because they are unwilling to spend on players. This diminishes the market for players since some teams are not looking to compete and are incentivized to just lose games and get a high draft pick. In these negotiations, the player’s hope to implement some sort of way to discourage a team from losing on purpose by perhaps adding a salary floor that teams must follow. 

In addition to this, there are a lot of issues when it comes to younger players as they navigate their way through the minor leagues. As it stands, teams purposely keep players in the minors for a certain amount of time as a way to keep them under a cheap contract as well as exhaust all options before they let a player hit free agency. The players hope to eliminate this in some way to allow players to hit free agency sooner rather than later. Currently, players must accumulate six years on an MLB roster before they hit free agency, but the players are looking to reduce that number — something the owners want to avoid. 

And what do the owners want? In short, almost nothing of what the players want. Both sides have their feet firmly planted, which makes the negotiations an interesting one. One of the main things owners are looking for is expanded playoffs. 

Since teams get 100% of the TV revenue in the playoffs, more playoff teams means more money and larger TV deals for the league in addition to the concessions and ticket sale revenues. As a way to try to convince the players of this, they have offered to reduce the season from 162 games to 154 as well as implement the universal designated hitter — both things that the player’s have wanted for a while. Still, this looks like a one sided deal, since the ones who will benefit the most from this exchange would be the owners and their teams since the revenue would increase even more with an expanded playoffs. 

In addition to these issues, the league is looking to lower the luxury tax threshold, something that penalizes teams that spend over a certain amount. As it stands, the threshold is at $210 million per team. The owners have offered to raise it gradually up to $220 million but it would come with harsher penalties while the player’s want to raise the luxury tax as a way to encourage the big spenders to spend even more. 

“We already have teams in smaller markets that struggle to compete,” Manfred said of the MLBPA’s stance. “Shortening the period of time that they control players makes it even harder for them to compete. It’s also good for fans in those markets. The most negative reaction we have is when a player leaves via free agency. We don’t see making it available earlier as a positive.”

With the league having concerns about how these proposals could hurt small market teams, MLBPA has doubts about that and are looking for a more fair Collective Bargaining agreement than the one they got in 2016. 

“When you look at how the 2016 CBA agreement…has worked over the past five years, as players we see major problems with it,” New York Met and an association player representative on the MLBPA’s Executive Subcommittee Max Scherzer said. “Specifically, and first and foremost, we see a competition problem and how teams are behaving because of certain rules that are within that. And adjustments have to be made because of that in order to bring up the competition. So, as players, that’s absolutely critical to us to have a highly competitive league and when we don’t have that, we have issues.”

With pitchers and catchers set to report to Spring Training on Feb. 15 of the new year, the clock is ticking for both sides. After last year’s shortened season and losses due to the pandemic, there is urgency on both sides to get something done. Still, neither side will agree to something they aren’t comfortable with just to play baseball. While a cancellation or shortening of a season looks unlikely at this current moment, it is not 100% out of the realm of possibility. But, a lot would need to happen — or not happen — between now and the start of the season for that to occur.

These negotiations are more than just revenue sharing, new rules or anything else. It is the players looking for some fairness in a system that highly favors MLB franchises. This new collective bargaining agreement is a chance for players to gain some of the power they lost. A great deal for the players in this negotiation could go a long way not only for players in baseball, but in other league’s as well. 

Written by: Omar Navarro— sports@theaggie.org

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