MLB’s early collective bargaining sessions might just be theater

This article is free for anyone to read, but please consider becoming a Patreon subscriber to allow me to keep writing posts like this one.

If what Evan Drellich has reported at The Athletic is any indication, we should be expecting little to no progress from Major League Baseball and the Players Associations two-years-early collective bargaining sessions. The short of it is that MLB claims they’re still awaiting any meaningful proposal from the MLBPA, while the players’ side doesn’t seem to believe MLB is here to do anything but tell people that they tried to start a dialogue.

From Drellich:

In his opening statement Tuesday in an annual media session before the All-Star Game, Clark listed off the primary talking points for the players: A desire for greater competitiveness amongst teams, improvements to free agency, and so on.

Then Clark quickly suggested that the league will not engage substantively on any of these fronts at this point, because the league doesn’t want to change its economics. A charge, in essence, that the league is willing to listen, but not act meaningfully.

If you’ve ever been involved in collective bargaining or even as part of a union listening to what your bargaining committee is reporting back, then you know this feeling all too well. MLB could very well be presenting a sympathetic face to the media and fans, so that if things come crashing down in the future, they can always point back to this moment and say they tried. If it weren’t for those pesky players, you know?

The quotes out of Manfred certainly back up these feelings, unless we’ve decided that he’s not a bullshit artist all of a sudden for some reason:

“Let me add: never, never in the history of the prior deals, some of which were not particularly good for the owners, did the MLBPA come to us and say, ‘We’re prepared to discuss your concerns in the midterm.’ It is unprecedented. And it started not because Tony came to us. It started because we went to him.

“We have had one preliminary meeting with Tony on our offer of midterm bargaining. What we told Tony in that meeting is: ‘We made a deal, we can live with it. If you want to change the deal, now it’s incumbent upon you to tell us what proposals you have to address your player concerns.’

“When he comes forward with those proposals, we’ll be more than happy to engage and try to make some accommodation. That hasn’t happened yet.”

I have a lot of negative feelings about Manfred, but he knows how to do this part of his job: he’s commissioner now, he’s Bud Selig’s handpicked successor, even, because of the work he did throughout the 90s and beyond in CBA talks. MLB’s rise to sympathetic figure in the media and fans, a reversal from the decades of the players trying to even up the score, happened under his close watch. He’s an always obviously lying robot, but at the same time, those lies work just a little too often for the good of the Players Association. So here he is trying again with the kind of “hey, we’re here to listen and work with the players” line that could work on those who aren’t carrying around the skepticism necessary for these kinds of negotiations.

Of course the MLBPA never stepped up to address the concerns of management during previous deals: they’ve been playing catchup since the first CBA was agreed to back in 1968, and all management has done in the decades between then and now is figure out how to crush the players and put them back in their place, as it were. The owners’ concerns have been things like, “Wow, this whole free agency thing should be abolished” and “hear me out, what if we ended arbitration because we hate that you have even a modicum of control of your own destiny.” This is a bad-faith retort out of Manfred, is what I’m saying, and it’s precisely the kind of attitude that has Clark and the MLBPA skeptical of MLB actually wanting to work with the union to fix what is very obviously an awful CBA for the players.

Bad faith is what got the MLBPA here in the first place, since they assumed the last CBA would be fine. They missed the loopholes, though, or at least didn’t believe the teams would exploit them for everything they were worth, and here we are, in the unprecedented situation of feeling like the entire MLB system is going to come to a screeching halt in 2021 if these early talks don’t prove fruitful because exploit the loopholes for everything they were worth is exactly what MLB’s owners have done.

All of this being said, I’d very much like to see what kinds of proposals the MLBPA does have in mind for fixing the issues they rank the highest on their list. “Improvements to free agency” is a tough one on its own, but as we’ve discussed before, you can have it happen somewhat organically by dealing with issues elsewhere. Raise the minimum salary so its growth is more closely tied to revenue growth. Discard an entire class of inexpensive players by bringing arbitration eligibility back to two years and reworking how much service time equals a year. Do away with the qualifying offer and free agent compensation altogether so free agency is actually free. Do not, under any circumstances, agree to a restricted free agency model.

Doing all of this forces teams to try a little harder, or at least spend more and work harder to appear as if they’re trying, which should help alleviate both the competitiveness issues and the free agency ones. That’s before we even get into the discussion of paying minor-league players more, or uncapping the draft and international free agency to reopen teams’ wallets in arenas besides just free agency.

I’m skeptical of MLB being open to, well, any of my ideas or the MLBPA’s, but I’m also concerned that the MLBPA won’t push as hard as they need to, or in the right directions, to bring about the change they know is necessary. For very different reasons than MLB, I also want to see the content of these MLBPA proposals: maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll start to appear in the wild at some point as these discussions get scheduled out.

  • For Forbes, Jared Wyllys points out that failure for MLB and the MLBPA to work out their differences could be disastrous at a time when they finally seem to be figuring out this whole promotion thing.

  • Tony Clark gave the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette details on the grievance against the Pirates, one of four handed out by the MLBPA for a failure to spend revenue-sharing dollars.

  • Billy Haisley at Deadspin wonders how much longer the World Cup will belong to the United States Women’s National Team when European nations are putting in the kind of resources and work that, well, the U.S. Soccer Federation is not in order to further develop the game. It’s a fair question: if the USSF doesn’t start taking the USWNT (and the development of women’s soccer in the United States) more seriously, they could eventually be overcome by countries that have the infrastructure in place.

  • Jessica Luther writes about how it’s time for women’s soccer to straight-up breakaway from FIFA in order to finally develop the league(s) and sport they’re worthy of.

  • I give the Rays a lot of (deserved) shit for their business practices, so I want to take a moment to point out that this is not one of those times. This is good on them, even.

  • If the MLBPA could find a couple more Justin Verlanders, they’d be unstoppable. ​

Visit my Patreon to become a supporter and help me continue to write articles like this one.