MLB’s ‘proposal’ proposal was even worse than we knew

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That MLB’s final pre-lockout bargaining session was something of a joke where they didn’t even attempt to talk with the Players Association was already known: the New York Times reported on it in the moment, and the union rep for the Cubs, Ian Happ, referenced as much in a radio interview last month as well. Now, though, we know the depths of the humor in said joke, thanks to the reporting of ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

You need a subscription to read the whole thing, so I’m just going to quote this relevant passage from the larger story on the state of the lockout:

Earlier in the day [December 1], MLB had said it wanted to talk about core economics, but only on the condition that those discussions not include any changes to the six-year reserve period of free agency, the arbitration system or revenue sharing. The union would not agree to that condition. Seven minutes in, there was nothing left to discuss. MLB left the hotel and did not return.

And now, five weeks later, the fallout of the failed discussions remains unresolved, according to sources. The union believes it’s the league’s turn to make an offer and, according to a source, MLB is working on proposals to bring to the table. Five days into the new year, there still isn’t a bargaining session on the calendar.

Apparently, MLB can propose these massive, sweeping, structural changes that remove arbitration from existence, implement a spending pool for pre-free agency players, create a universal age for free agency that’s too old to be anything besides the start of a new loophole, and so on, but the Players Association can’t talk about modifying the arbitration or free agency systems, or propose any kinds of changes to a revenue-sharing system that is being so exploited that there are currently four unresolved grievances against teams related to that very thing? It’s kind of amazing the discussions lasted for even seven minutes.

It’s amazing, too, that this wasn’t even MLB saying “we won’t listen to these items if you want to make a proposal on them,” which would be enough of a deterrent at this last-minute meeting to begin with. No, it was the league saying, “we have a proposal ready, but if we show it to you, you are no longer allowed to discuss anything that matters to you.” Of course the union said no to that!

Part of me suspects that was an intentional move on MLB’s part, though, to avoid spending more time in a Dallas hotel than they needed to, because they wanted the lockout and knew there was no point in negotiating further until the lockout was in place. Of course, they then got their lockout hours later, but no further discussions on core economics have taken place. Part of that is because of the holidays, sure, and another part is due to how far apart the two sides were on these subjects, but another component is that the league and the union couldn’t even agree on whose turn it was to submit a proposal.

As Passan noted, MLB is now working on an economic proposal to be delivered at a date to be determined, but it wasn’t all that long ago that they were claiming that they had submitted a proposal: it was just that the union didn’t agree to the terms of seeing it, so it was now up to the players to counter… something. A proposal they hadn’t seen yet? To negotiate against themselves and their previous proposal? Rob Manfred and Co. seem to have love trying to get the players to negotiate against themselves when they’re in a bind — remember, a similar thing happened in 2020, when the players and league had agreed to a pay structure for a pandemic-shortened campaign, but in public, MLB denied that was the case and attempted to publicly pressure the union into bargaining on a settled subject they did not need to reopen. And again, in 2021, with the length of the season, and MLB’s desire to not get things moving until later in the year when fans could be in attendance.

So, maybe the Dallas move was done mostly to just put a stop to things that were going nowhere, and give the pre-lockout hours the dramatic flourish they needed. Or maybe the owners really do believe their own bullshit here — even more than usual, I mean. Maybe they truly do believe that they are making fair asks of the union by telling them to completely drop various subjects. Maybe they really did think it was the PA’s turn to propose something since the league did show up to Dallas with an economic proposal in mind. Or maybe not, and my first instinct is right, and the league submitted a proposal to see the proposal they knew the PA would say no to. Maybe that folder that supposedly held the proposal was empty, and that’s why, over a month later, Passan says MLB is still working on a proposal instead of just scheduling a meeting where they go,” alright, here is the proposal we didn’t show to you on December 1, you can see it now without having to jump through hoops first.”

The most terrifying consideration, of course, is that it is both of these things. That Dallas was 100 percent just for show on the owners’ side, but that they also believe everything they’re saying is not just right from a business perspective, but also correct and just in general. If that’s the case, well, a long winter will become a long spring in short order.

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