Updated: Mar 4
Baseball is America’s past time. The world is coming out of a pandemic, dealing with threats of a third World War, and Major League Baseball is in a lockout. This is a time where MLB had a chance to step in and save sports fans from all the bad going on in the world currently. It is the beginning of March. The days are getting longer, spring is in the air, and MLB players should be in Spring Training battling for roster spots. Instead the league, and the players union were in Jupiter, Florida for 8 straight days “negotiating” a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Spoiler alert: no deal. As Jeff Passan has famously said “There is no deal, there was never going to be a deal”. Just how did we get here, and where do we go from here?
From as early as I can remember baseball has been in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love all sports, but baseball has always had a special place in my heart. My childhood summers were filled with my Dad blasting Tom Hamilton on the radio broadcasting the Cleveland baseball games while we enjoyed the company of friends and family having cookouts in the backyard. My Dad would fire up the grill each year on that special February day where pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training. Baseball was always my Dad and I’s special thing to do together. Baseball is more than just a game to me, it is a part of who I am at my core. My Dad passed away in 2018. Ironically enough, baseball was playing on the TV in his ICU hospital room leading up to his death. The Cleveland Guardians make me feel as close to my dad as ever. I find myself wondering how upset my Dad would be about this lockout. The owners, and Rob Manfred have ripped this game away from us diehard fans.
Let’s take a look back about how this lockout began. The old CBA expired on 12/2. The owners locked out the players at 12:01 on that day. The owners did not submit a formal proposal to the players for 43 days. Everyone involved knew this lockout was coming. Why were these issues not beginning to be discussed during the 2021 season? Why did the owners not make their first offer to the players until mid-January when it was the players who made the final offer before being locked out? Why did MLB not begin negotiating in good faith until that historic week in Jupiter prior to their self-inflicted deadline the final week of February? As many players have been very vocal about, it is because there was never going to be a deal.
Living in Cleveland, most of us are well aware about how volatile the weather can be in most of the country in April. Shane Bieber pitched through a blizzard against the Detroit Tigers to open the 2021 season. As a result of this unpredictable weather, fans are hesitant to come out to the ballpark until the weather gets warmer. The owners know this. There are also no penalties with the TV contracts with less than 25 games missed. What does this all mean? It means instead of bringing baseball back to its desperate fans the owners chose greed. The owners knew if they could postpone the start of the season they wouldn’t have to pay the players in April, and any missed revenue would be more than made up with the expanded playoffs set to begin this year. How we got to that final day in Jupiter might be the most troubling.
The evening of 2/28 brought hope and excitement to fans for the first time since the free agent frenzy that took place before the lockout was instituted by the owners. Diehard baseball fans like myself spent the night refreshing our Twitter feeds because by all indications it seemed like a deal was imminent. We later found out a deal was never close. This was a PR stunt by the owners to begin attempting to push blame on the players. At 2:30am the league agreed to break for the evening, and reconvene on March 1st. We were all bamboozled. The owners side began saying the tone had changed with the players side, all while the owners were trying to sneak rule changes in at the final moment (banning the shift, pitch clock, etc.). The players were blindsided. Like the fans, the players were hopeful because the owners were finally moving towards the middle in their proposals. They remained far apart on numbers. Let’s look at the league’s “best and final offer” compared to the player’s final offer.
- No changes to CBT thresholds ($220M) with no increase until year 4
- A $5M increase on pre-arbitration bonus pool from $25M to $30M
- Increase in min. salary from $675K to $700K
- CBT thresholds at $238 with increases over next 5 years
- Pre-arb bonus pool at $85M with $5M annual increases
- Min. salary at $725K moving up $10K per season
As shown here, the two sides are not that far apart. There is a middle ground to be had. The only question is: will the two sides ego let them be the side that caves first?
It is no secret that the players have gotten screwed in the last few CBA’s. This union has shown themselves to be extremely united, and focused on their goal of getting younger players paid sooner. They knew what to expect from the owners going into this cycle of negotiations, and they have stayed strong. Not all of the past misfortunes can be made up in one CBA cycle. They do have a chance to make a difference for the future of baseball. So much still has to happen before we can even start thinking about the regular season. There are still over 300 free agents to sign, trades to happen, a rule 5 draft, and spring training.
This whole lockout has been filled with bad optics for Major League Baseball. Rob Manfred stood up in front of the media and laughed while cancelling the first two series of the regular season, he dodged questions, and just flat out lied. There are small market owners who do not want to spend money, but also do not want to be out spent. It is a messy and contentious situation. Diehard fans will come back. The common baseball fan is losing interest, quickly. If the league underestimates the value of the common fan then they are making a HUGE mistake.
There is a path forward. As I mentioned earlier, the two sides are getting closer. There is a deal to be made. These negotiations have not been for nothing. The 2 sides have already agreed to: Universal DH, 12/14 team expanded postseason, removing indirect draft pick compensation for free agents, and reduced likelihood of tanking by implementing a draft lottery. The two sides just need to get back to the negotiating table, and hammer the numbers out to get this deal done as quickly as possible. The future of the game I love depends on it. My prediction is we probably will not see baseball until May 1st. For baseball to return May 1st, a deal would need to happen within the next 3-4 weeks to give teams time to set their rosters, and players having a month-long spring training. The 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson Day will be missed (speaking of bad optics).
This was supposed to be the inaugural season of the Cleveland Guardians. New merchandise, exciting trades, and free agent signings. We have been robbed of this. I am angry, I am sad, and I am disappointed. I underestimated just how low the owner’s greed would take them. While they engage in their stare down, baseball fans are left dreaming about sunsets over the baseball stadium, and the moves their team might make once the lockout ends. With absolute turmoil going on in the world, the task is simple for MLB: give us baseball back!
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