Round-up: All-Stars’ labor priorities, and the A’s stadium plan vote

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. Sign up to receive articles like this one in your inbox here.

The ongoing collective bargaining negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Players Association have not been public to this point, which should not be a huge surprise. It’s just July, and the current CBA doesn’t expire until December. Plus, we just had a whole lot of public negotiating going on before the 2020 season, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic moving negotiations ahead of schedule: the PA didn’t seem like they wanted to go public at all until MLB forced their hand there, while MLB itself probably decided to rein things in a bit given how their extremely public, pandemic-related posturing went over — as one of my dad’s favorite sayings goes — about as well as a fart in church.

So yes, things have been quiet, with the only public knowledge at this point basically being that the two sides are in fact talking things over. The 2021 All-Star Game was last week, though, which means media availability for a whole bunch of high-profile players, many of whom were asked questions about what it is they want out of a new CBA. What struck me while reading about this was the uniformity of the answers: the players aren’t discussing the actual details of CBA talks, of course, but they seem pretty unified in terms of what it is they’re looking for out of a new CBA, in a general sense.

The only real discord within Andy McCullough’s piece is between commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB’s top priority — “get a new agreement without a work stoppage” — and that of the MLBPA and its executive director Tony Clark — “finding a fair and equitable agreement.” It might not sound like much more than stock answers from either, but, as I wrote back in April, seeing discord here on this particular issue is good:

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.

Maybe Clark is just saying that, but as someone who always says that the believable threat of a strike is just as important as actually striking, having Clark put say a “fair and equitable agreement” takes priority is a positive, since, if there isn’t one to be found, the PA will have to find a way to leverage themselves into one. That Manfred is already going to the “labor peace” well is maybe more telling, but we’ll see on both fronts.

Otherwise, McCullough’s piece is a player-focused affair, with the players hopeful that teams will be negotiated into being more competitive, and that players will be paid sooner for their services — whether by reducing the time it takes to get to free agency, or by increasing pay within those pre-free agent years somehow. As someone who said the PA should be fighting to triple the minimum salary — hey, they’ve done it before — you can imagine how enjoyable it is to see players bringing up pre-free agency pay.

The A’s stadium situation took a few more turns in the past few days, as Oakland’s city council voted on the much-discussed proposal the A’s put forward. Well, sort of. The city council voted on a proposal, which was a counter to the A’s proposal. Neil deMause wrote about that counter a couple of days back, before the vote, saying that “this is just how games of chicken work.”

So, context and analysis, in brief: Fisher and Kaval asked for $855 million and to be exempted from state affordable housing requirements, Oakland came back with $495 million and no affordable housing exemption, and Kaval said, Well in that case, Las Vegas is lovely this time of year. [Ed. Note: Fact-check this.]

This is what’s called a showdown, and no matter how the council votes on Tuesday,  this game of chicken is likely to stretch well beyond that, because both sides have way too much at stake for a quick resolution. If Oakland officials don’t back down enough in the next 24 hours for Fisher and Kaval to give their blessing, A’s execs can be expected to start talking seriously about how to fund a stadium in Las Vegas — or, as things have typically gone in the past, talking about talking seriously about it, in hopes that it will scare Oakland into upping their ante.

If history is any guide, it is extremely likely that this will end with some sort of compromise where Oakland offers that $495 million plus some free land or additional tax breaks or cheesy bread, and Fisher and Kaval grudgingly accept it as the bare minimum they will put up with.

Manfred also went to bat [baseball term] for the A’s after team president Dave Kaval complained about the city council voting on a proposal that wasn’t the A’s proposal, saying that, “We are disappointed the City Council chose to vote on a proposal to which the A’s had not agreed. We will immediately begin conversations with the A’s to chart a path forward for the Club.“ No surprise there, that Manfred would have the back of one of his 30 bosses, especially when it comes to a fight for subsidizing a new stadium.

deMause has another post up on the vote and stadium situation, following the 6-1 city council vote in favor of their own plan, and this seems like the real takeaway graf, though you should read the whole thing (and the previous one, as well):

What happens next is impossible to say, but pretty easy to guess: Kaval’s job now is to see what more he can extract from a city — ideally Oakland, since it’s bigger and is already in for $495 million, but if he can get an offer from Vegas or Henderson or Summerlin, that’s leverage if nothing else. To do so, he needs to turn up his nose at Oakland’s plan, but not cut off communication entirely, because you can’t get a bigger ransom if you kill the hostage; Kaval’s statement about getting back to “all parties” certainly indicates that he’s not walking away from the table, and his suggestion of extending talks through the council’s summer recess, which starts August 1, would seem to be an attempt to provide the least possible wiggle room as a carrot to accompany the move-threat stick.

As I’ve written before, MLB likes to talk about potential expansion sites mostly so they have cities to work into the conversation as leverage whenever it’s time, in their eyes, for a new stadium. Expansion is conceptual, but threatening to move? That’s the real thing, even if there is actually about as much chance of a team changing cities as there is of the league expanding. The threat has often been enough. Whether it’s enough for the A’s and Kaval to extract more from Oakland remains to be seen, but they’ve already got them to agree to $495 million, which is not nothing, even if it’s not as sizable a subsidy as what the A’s demanded.

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