MLB, MLBPA finally begin discussing expiring CBA

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Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have had their first collective bargaining meeting of 2021, according to reporting by ESPN’s Jeff Passan. He has no details on just what went down at the talks, as both sides declined to comment on them, and a lack of leaks from the MLB side — come on, you know it would be them first — means we can’t really figure out just how the first conversation went.

Passan gives a brief overview of the current situation — distrust on both sides, the players being understandably dissatisfied with both the league and the way the current, expiring collective bargaining agreement has played out — but I want to focus on one specific item he mentioned:

An overhaul of baseball’s core economic system is highly unlikely, sources said, citing the limited amount of time to strike a deal and keep labor peace uninterrupted since 1995. The union nevertheless intends to target spending and competitive integrity — particularly the promotion of competition by all teams — among its priorities with a new deal. Players are also in favor of funneling money to players earlier in their careers, the potential for free agency before six years of service and a solution to — or at least remedy of — service-time manipulation.

I would guess that the particular source mentioned in that quote is on the league side, since the amount of time to negotiate a deal was cited: the current CBA expires in December, after the 2021 season. The side concerned with time would be the owners, who won’t want to begin the 2022 season with the CBA unresolved: this is the primary reason why I’ve been saying for a couple of years now that a lockout is likely. If the 2022 season begins without a CBA, the players are then in a position to strike. If they are locked out before the ‘22 season can start, they can’t strike. The owners will want to be in control, and locking the players out gives them more control than if the players, well, struck out on their own to delay the season’s start.

The players, on the other hand, should not concern themselves with maintaining labor peace and beginning the 2022 season on time. They should be focused on securing the best possible deal for themselves and the future of the union, and if achieving that goal means the 2022 season is locked out until the owners are tired of missing out on revenues from the lack of games, then so be it. There hasn’t been a work stoppage in MLB since 1994-1995, and the union has slowly seen their gains diminished with each CBA since. That is not a coincidence: I wrote an entire series titled “Labor peace is a lie” for a reason, you know. If MLB doesn’t think there is any chance of a work stoppage, then the owners will be better unified, knowing that all they have to do is stand firm for a few months before they get what they want. They’ll push the union, they’ll claw back gains, and they’ll come out on top, again.

If the players are a threat to strike or to allow the owners to lock them out, though, then the nature of the discussions will change. The owners won’t be so sure of themselves and their victory, and they might even overreach in their negotiations in response, painting themselves as the obvious malevolent force in these discussions in the process. Striking is the most powerful weapon in a union’s arsenal, but it’s meaningless if the opposition knows you’re never going to pull it out.

It’s hard to imagine that MLB would be interested in lessening the amount of time they have control over a player at the same time they’d be paying less experienced players more sooner, but it’s still a good place for the union to start. Hopefully, their intention would be to sacrifice an earlier free agency in bargaining in order to zero in on raising the league minimum, and doing so substantially. Raising the minimum and plugging the service time loophole by revamping that system should be priorities, and at least per Passan, they appear to be. Fixes to the free agent market are going to come out of fixes elsewhere, and since there should be something of a redistribution of funds from the very richest MLB players to the rest, anyway, then this approach makes more sense than a top down one that might not even work for the players as they intend.

And as has been mentioned in this space before, the MLBPA successfully tripled the minimum salary over just a few years’ time before, and during just as contentious a scenario, if not more so, than what we’re seeing now. They can do it again if they put focus there and fight for it.

This initial report from Passan is promising, at least, even if there isn’t much there through no fault of his own. If it’s the owners’ side concerned about time, that’s good. If the players are planning on aiming primarily for the things Passan mentioned, that’s also a positive. Obviously, these discussions will be watched as closely as possible throughout the rest of the year, though, given where recent talks have landed everything, I wouldn’t be shocked if we’re still talking about all of this in 2022 as well.

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  • Have you subscribed to my other newsletter, where I write about retro video games? I’m approaching the home stretch of my current project, ranking the top 101 Nintendo games ever, so now is as good a time as any to sign up. It’s free!