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.
Let’s rewind for a second, to one week ago. Last Friday, I wrote about how the Players Association had issued an ultimatum to MLB, saying there would be no expanded postseason in 2022 without a full 162-game schedule and full payment for those games. The conclusion:
The union is saying, loud and clear, that they want to play 162 games. Whether they want to play them because they want their full salaries isn’t quite immaterial, but it’s not the most significant point to draw from the declaration. The union is separating itself even further from the idea that it has anything to do with the threat that the season will not start on time. We’ll see if it’s all as convincing and/or panic-inducing to the league as the “when and where” strategy of 2020 was, but for now, we do know that there are plans to potentially meet for bargaining every day next week in order to sort things out before MLB’s imposed “the season won’t start on time if we come to an agreement after this” date of February 28.
Well, here we are, four-fifths of the way through that week of bargaining, and they aren’t materially any closer to a deal than they were when the week began. It’s possible the two sides also meet on Saturday and Sunday with that Monday deadline looming, but with the distance between them at present, it feels like weekend bargaining would mostly happen so that neither side can be accused of taking a break in the proceedings.
Don’t misconstrue this as blaming both sides for a lack of progress, by the way. The union made their ultimatum over a week ago now, and MLB was unmoved by it. They didn’t begin to take their bargaining more seriously, continuing to just slowly shuffle some pieces on the board around, and then issued their own counter-ultimatum: if any games are missed because a deal isn’t reached by February 28, then those games will not be made up, and the players will not be paid for them.
As far as ultimatums go, you’ve seen better ones. If the players were in a position to strike because the lack of good-faith bargaining by the league had led them to what they believe to be an impasse, they’d be willingly choosing to forgo their paychecks in order to win a deal they think is worth that sacrifice. They weren’t given the choice here, as they were locked out by the owners, but they can still get a similar result by standing firm and together as if they had begun this whole process. The owners might have been the ones to lock the doors, but the players can hold off on giving in until the owners themselves cave, lifting the lockout in the process.
Yes, the ultimatums are a case of the owners losing potential revenues vs. the players losing actual revenues, but it all comes down to who has the will to stomach the loss, not whether the loss was actually being counted on or not. And you have to consider, too, that the league likely was banking on an expanded postseason helping to refill the coffers, just as it did in 2020 when they delayed and delayed until the season was so short that the players filed a grievance over it.
The actual language used by the league spokesperson is worth addressing, though. It’s not that being caught looking like a hypocrite is something that impacts anyone who is a hypocrite or acting hypocritical, but still, let’s dive in so that those who still think MLB is acting on the up and up here can see otherwise. “A deadline is a deadline. Missed games are missed games. Salary will not be paid for those games.” That’s how MLB put it with regards to sticking to their self-imposed February 28 deadline: the same MLB that failed to negotiate in earnest for months, the same MLB that ran out the clock on the previous CBA in order to enact a lockout, the same one that attempted to justify said lockout by saying it would speed up this whole process and avoid a scenario where any games would be missed, and then sat on its ass for nearly seven weeks before scheduling the first bargaining session of the lockout, and is now threatening to cancel games.
Back on Monday, it was an open question of whether or not MLB would be willing to actually miss games in order to codify the loopholes of the previous CBA. It’s clear now that the regressive luxury tax threshold they’ve proposed means that much to them, though, as does avoiding any meaningful expansion of pay for young players, whether it comes in the form of a bonus or an actual salary. They bumped their proposal for the pre-arbitration bonus pool up by $5 million — an additional $167,000 commitment per team — and tacked on another $10,000 to their minimum salary proposal while killing the tiered system that was always a no go, since it offered a higher minimum base for players with more service time but also eliminated the ability to pay players more than those figures. MLB is mostly just giving the illusion of movement here; the PA isn’t necessarily making huge strides at this point, either, but why should they? MLB still isn’t meaningfully addressing their concerns about the direction of competition or compensation, and the union has already given enough ground as a show of good faith from their side. Basically, we’re getting closer to the staring contest portion of things, and inevitably, someone is going to blink.
There is another bargaining session scheduled for Friday, but expect more of the same from MLB on this one, which is to say, not much at all. There could be anywhere from one to three sessions between the end of Friday’s and the Monday deadline, but it feels like, at this point, that if there is any movement that’s going to occur, it won’t happen until the last minute, anyway. More likely is that Monday brings no resolution to anything besides the question of whether or not the 2022 season will have 162 games and an expanded postseason in it. And it’s unlikely anyone involved is going to be happy about the answer.