There were mixed feelings about the Indians changing their name to the Guardians after the 2021 season. What most fans can agree on is we all want to see baseball at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. The NFL season is coming to an end, the NBA still has months to go before the playoffs. This is the part of the calendar where MLB is supposed to capitalize. The calendar has turned to February which marks when most baseball fans begin the countdown to pitchers and catchers reporting. Instead were all debating the lockout, and who’s right or wrong.
The Guardians pitchers and catchers were due to report to Spring Training on February 15, with the rest of the roster joining them on February 20. Enter the elephant in the room: the lockout, now entering its 3rd month, is not close to ending according to those familiar with the negotiations. Some middle ground is emerging, but the 2 sides remain FAR apart on particulars. Thus far, the players have compromised a lot more than the league has. Discussions thus far have been described as “heated” with the players being left “disappointed”. What does this all mean you ask?
The common fan is not really interested in the particulars. It is viewed by many as a “millionaires vs. billionaires” debate. This actually is not accurate. A big point for the players union in these negotiations has been getting younger players paid sooner. According to a report, only 68% of players protected by the MLBPA make over $1M per season. The average minor league salary is only $45,000, not to mention the deplorable living conditions. Players are also interested in seeing more of the revenue they create. Revenues across the league have increased every year except the COVID shortened 2020. During this time, payrolls have decreased nearly 5% since 2017. The league has been unwilling to discuss raising the minimum salary. The players are not the enemy here.
The 2 sides have met twice in the last 8 days to try to hash out these “core economics” issues. The only problem: it seems the players are the only side that showed up willing to negotiate. Each side has proposed a “bonus pool” to distribute to players not yet eligible for arbitration. The players have dropped their request down to $100M while the league has not budged from a $10M bonus pool. The union has also agreed to MLB’s terms regarding service time manipulation. Teams will be rewarded draft pick compensation for bringing a player up to the majors when they’re ready, as opposed to keeping the player in the minors to delay their free agency and arbitration timeline. The union has already backed off their request of free agency being tied to a player’s age. The two sides also remain far apart on what the luxury tax threshold should be.
What does this all mean for the common fan? It means the start of Spring Training is likely to be delayed. ESPN’s Jeff Passan even went as far to say the start of Spring Training is in “grave danger” to not start on time. Even if a new CBA is agreed upon in the coming weeks, it is not like players and staff can just report to Spring Training the next day. There still needs to be some sort of offseason with over 130 free agents yet to sign. Teams need time to make trades, and get their rosters together for the upcoming season. There are domestic travel issues, VISA issues for international players, not to mention COVID clearance. A deal would need to be reached in the coming days for the full slate of spring training games to be played as scheduled. That feels like a pipe dream at this point. First week of March is the new soft deadline for the regular season to begin on time. This would leave time for a frantic two week off season, three weeks of Spring Training, with the regular season beginning on time at the end of March.
This is not ideal for our Cleveland Guardians trying to get fans excited about the name change. This was supposed to be a fun off season. Tons of 40 man roster adds, trades to be made, talks of a minority owner to raise the payroll. As of now, these are all just scenarios were left to dream about. MLB is currently a distant 3rd in this country (in terms of popularity) behind the NFL, and NBA. They can ill afford this negative publicity. Rob Manfred’s approval ratings are low in the minds of fans. This is accomplishing the exact opposite of their goal of gaining back the interest of young children.
A deal will get done, baseball is not going anywhere…yet. This is already the longest lockout in baseball history. Enough has been jeopardized already. Let’s hope MLB can come to their senses, and begin to “play ball” at the table so the players can get back to playing ball in front of the fans who so desperately want to see some baseball as soon as possible.