The MLBPA was not required to negotiate the start of the 2021 season

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As of now, the focus is on Major League Baseball and the Players Association figuring out when the 2021 season is going to begin. “Figuring out” in the sense that MLB keeps sending over proposals that the PA rejects and does not counter, because they are under no obligation to do so, anyway. Still, though, that’s where all of the energy on the relations between the two sides is at the moment, which, once the season actually does begin, will lead into the actual collective bargaining talks of 2021: the current CBA expires in December, and the two sides will need a new one in time for a 2022 season.

Not enough of MLB media seems to understand just what the league was trying to do by submitting proposals on a later start date with adjustments to pay, proposals for the expanded postseason and a universal DH and so on. The two sides were not bargaining: MLB was attempting to reopen negotiations on subjects that did not require negotiations, and if the PA started sending over counters, then that would be the same as the union agreeing that the subject was open to negotiations instead of settled. Jon Heyman is far from the only media member to tweet on the subject or bemoan the lack of cooperation from the two sides on these “negotiations,” but as he had a particular wrinkle in his messaging that stood out, he’s going to be singled out here. Just consider that this isn’t about Heyman so much as MLB media in general, though:

Labor lawyer Eugene Freedman detailed just why the PA didn’t have to negotiate, and it’s the much more professional sounding and expanded upon version of what I wrote above: if the PA starts countering on subjects that aren’t open, the subjects are then open. You should read Freedman’s whole thread on the matter, though, especially if you’re unsure about why Heyman and Co. are saying that’s so wrong here.

As for how it “does not bode well for avoiding a work stoppage when CBA expires in a year,” the two are completely unrelated, in terms of a testing the waters look at things. The PA is simply abiding by the rules of a collectively bargained agreement: they are not required to reopen bargaining on subjects that the CBA covers, so they are not. It’s possible that a situation could arise where the union would be willing to open up — say, if MLB wanted to delay the start of the season for the sake of the safety of the players, but without asking for the players to give up something in return for this safety. If MLB is actually that concerned about player safety during the pandemic, wouldn’t we be seeing offers that spotlight that concern, instead of ones that center MLB’s desire and financial incentive to have fans in the stands?

The excuse for years whenever the players don’t like something is that they agreed to it in CBA talks, so they should just shut it and wait until the next round of bargaining to fix it. For some reason, that doesn’t apply to the league here, when it’s their turn to not like the rules of the CBA being used against them. So they leak their every thought in a light that makes them positive, to media members they know will deliver the message the way the league wants it delivered, and then we end up here, with an explanation of why this is all happening and being viewed the way it is when neither is necessary.

If you want to look for a sign that “does not bode well,” look to last year, when the two sides actually did have to negotiate, because the season was being delayed and the how of it all needed to be figured out. In that scenario, commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB did have powers they could invoke — in a national emergency, Manfred had the power to suspend all contracts, which is quite the cudgel to be able to bring down. This forced the PA to negotiate on salaries and start date and an expanded postseason and the like. Once the two sides had an agreement about all of that in March, though, that was it: the union didn’t reopen talks when MLB claimed they needed to reopen talks again, and then spent months trying to do just that.

The PA had to negotiate the first time, given Manfred’s power to simply suspend the contracts of all of the players until the national emergency was over. Once prorated salaries were agreed to, however, that was it: the subject was closed. MLB needed to prove that the subject needed to be reopened, but refused to provide all of the requested financial information to the union in order to do so. While not sending over that information, the league leaked and leaked and lied about the negotiations to turn public opinion against the players — which again, at this point, were not negotiations, but MLB simply trying to reopen a settled issue, just like they’re doing now with the start date for 2021. The move backfired, as it seems to be backfiring here, too: other sports are running, so MLB wanting to delay via extended negotiation looks fishy and concerning instead of like it’s for the safety of players.

As a combination segue and aside: there is a legitimate reason to want to delay the start of the MLB season, especially with vaccination rollouts happening. Things should be safer as time goes on, as more folks are vaccinated, but again, MLB is trying to further their own narrative about losing money when there aren’t fans in the stands, and further line their pockets with expanded postseason revenue in the process. Those are their goals, hidden behind a concern for player safety. All of this makes it weird for me to want to defend the union here, since they want to play earlier when it’s less safe, but my defense of their actions comes from a defense of how a CBA works, and what MLB is actually trying to accomplish with a delay. MLB wants the right thing for the wrong reasons, the PA wants the wrong thing for the right reasons, and I just want my head to stop hurting.

Anyway, the talks last year were the real sign that things were not going to go well during the upcoming CBA talks, but we also already knew things would be bad before then, too. The pre-pandemic trajectory of things ended in a lockout, just because of what was going to be fought over come 2021: I wrote about the likelihood of a lockout for Deadspin a full year before the pandemic even reached America’s shore. The PA simply abiding by the rules of the CBA in the present doesn’t mean we’re in for anything negative in CBA negotiations. The entire state of the relations and competing desires of the two sides well before the start date of the 2021 season was ever a question will be why we’re in for a negative run of CBA talks.

And that’s fine, too: a lack of combativeness between the two sides led us to this point to begin with. Having the PA actually fight back ,as they did a year ago and seemingly will be doing once talks actually do turn to the expiring CBA, will be a positive in the long run even if it does mean a lockout is likely.

  • David Roth wrote a piece for Defector titled “The March of the American Kooks,” and while it’s about baseball players, it’s also about much more than that, all of which falls under this newsletter’s particular purview.

  • Angels’ pitching coach and former Mets’ manager Mickey Callaway has been accused of “lewd” behavior by five women, and The Athletic has the full story with receipts. Callaway is currently under investigation, as he did not admit to any wrongdoing, but again: receipts.

  • I planned on linking to Neil deMause this morning on minor-league stadiums as full-blown scam even before I saw that he linked to me in there. And yeah, I’m thinking on this potential MLS lockout, as expected.

  • Last week, Publication To Be Named Later, a worker-owned and worker-operated digital publication that I’m a founder of, released its first issue. If you already picked one up, I hope you’re enjoying it! If not, it’s over 200 pages of original features, essays, blogging, and even a crossword puzzle, and it costs as little as $1, more if you care to spend more. All of the money from sales goes to the people who wrote for and produced the issue, perpetually: nothing is being hoarded in a vault anywhere for the “owners” of the publication.

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