MLB would definitely shrink the minors again

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In reaction to the news that Major League Baseball has already been found to owe damages to minor-league players thanks to the class action Senne v. MLB suit, Maury Brown reported that we could see more MiLB clubs “dissolve” as a result of these increased costs:

In total, the increased cost with the minor leagues has raised concerns – both within MLB, and with some minor league owners – that additional contraction of minor league teams might take place when the current agreement between MLB and MiLB expires.

In speaking to several minor league owners, and sources within Major League Baseball, the idea that the number of affiliated teams could drop further is not being denied. When pressed in a meeting between minor league owners and MLB as to whether the number of teams could drop when the current agreement expires in 2030, Major League Baseball would not commit to it.

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MLB’s labor dispute is over. MLB’s labor dispute will never end.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but labor peace is a lie. A new collective bargaining agreement shouldn’t be considered the dawn of an era of peace, but more like a temporary ceasefire, until the next escalation brings the two sides to full-blown conflict once more. That’s not the kind of verbiage you’ll hear from either side — MLB because, like any monopolistic power, likes to pretend they aren’t the aggressors, and the Players Association because they have to live side-by-side with those aggressors until the next time. If you never take a step back, and are always publicly fighting, you’ll simply fatigue fans and the media who stir them up. Given that Thursday’s new CBA marks the end of a dispute that began essentially the moment MLB started jumping through the loopholes of the previous agreement, well… it’s time to quietly plan for 2027, and save the loud parts for later.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Players Association won a stunning victory with the new agreement, but considering they were fighting from underneath the entire time — the damage from the 2011 and 2016 CBAs, especially, had them coming into this bout far from at their best — reaching a time-limit draw with the league is still somewhat remarkable. What matters now — or, later, really — is what happens in 2027.

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Bargaining is ongoing, but a 14-team postseason might be dead

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There is little point in discussing the reports on the collective bargaining tax threshold at this particular moment, as this is being written during an overnight pause in negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA — the PA is speaking to its board in the morning before submitting a counter to MLB’s late-night offer. What did pop out that seems like it could stick, though, is that the league seems to have finally given up on an expanded postseason model that includes 14 teams.

Now, nothing is definite at this stage: the league could request to go back to 14 teams in their proposals, just like the PA did when they re-raised the pre-arbitration bonus pool amount to $115 million after making changes elsewhere. But the fact that MLB was willing to even entertain the idea of sticking with just 12 teams is a bit of positive news, for those who felt further expansion — unwelcome expansion — was an inevitability.

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If MLB’s owners wanted a deal, they have a funny way of showing it

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It should have been obvious that Major League Baseball and the Players Association were not close to a deal on Monday night. Still, though, fans can hardly be blamed for letting their optimism be abused by league sources and overly credulous media members; after all, they just wanted to watch some baseball when they expected to be able to watch some baseball, and belief that a deal was imminent helped to keep that particular dream alive.

The league leaned on their favorite reliable mouthpieces and also the likes of Bob Nightengale, who has, let’s say, something of a reputation for hurrying information out on Twitter without vetting it as much as it should be, in a way that isn’t necessarily reflected in his longer form published work, in order to inflate this sense that a deal was imminent — the idea, as was more plainly revealed the next afternoon, was that the league wanted to be able to act as if a deal was close until the players decided to instead face God and walk backwards into hell.

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Understanding 1994, the owners’ leverage, and a shift in media tone

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The benefit of assuming that there would be no deal by the time MLB’s self-imposed bargaining deadline passed is that, now that there is officially no deal and the first two series of the 2022 season have been canceled, there is less catching up to do around these parts than elsewhere. The downside to that level of preparedness is that “where to begin?” in a post-cancelation world is a much more open question: we’ve got much to think about.

Let’s start simple: by recapping a bit. On Monday, Baseball Prospectus ran a feature of mine titled “1994 Explains What ‘Labor Peace’ Never Could,” with the idea behind it being that the owners’ goals in 1994, and how those goals ended up playing out, are far more instructive to us in the present than the decades of “labor peace” are. You can’t think about what’s happening now in terms of how CBAs were negotiated in 2016, or 2011, or even in the aughts. The owners have a goal here, and it’s to crush the union. That, to them, is the goal. It’s the only “fair” outcome in their minds, and anything less is worth sacrificing season to avoid.

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It seems unlikely the 2022 MLB season will be 162 games long

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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.

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Bargaining isn’t always about midpoints

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​I understand the impulse to think that collective bargaining is always a series of back-and-forth movements from your position, until you end up in a midpoint that neither side is satisfied with. “That’s how you know it’s a good deal,” people will say. That can be true, sure, but it is not a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes two sides are asking for two very different things, and simply cutting the baby in half isn’t a solution.

Take the pre-arbitration bonus pool proposals between MLB and the Players Association, for instance. MLB is not opposed to the existence of a pre-arb pool, but they are completely against the specific instance of it that the union is pushing for. The owners want a small central fund that all 30 teams would plop what does not amount to much more than a league-minimum salary into, and then those funds would be dispersed 30 ways among the top pre-arb players. The owners don’t want to give the players anything, not really, but if it costs all of $20 million in 2022 to keep anyone from being able to say the owners haven’t moved on anything, well, that’s $20 million well spent, since it could save them far more than $20 million elsewhere if public pressure turns on the players.

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The PA altered a major proposal, but left MLB with an ultimatum

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The Players Association met with Major League Baseball on Thursday for a counterproposal, and the meeting ran 15 minutes before a slightly longer side session between lead negotiators began. We do not know all of the details of what was inside of the PA’s proposal — all of these documents are a whole lot longer and encompass much more than what we have leaked — but there was still plenty made known in the aftermath.

Let’s start with what was learned first. The Players Association pulled back on one of their proposals, and submitted a modified version to the league in the hopes they would be more amenable to that. The league doesn’t seem to be amenable to anything besides the status quo, of course, but the PA has to pick and choose what they’re going to stand completely firm on and what they’re going to give a little on, and it appears they have chosen to avoid changing their minimum salary plan. The arbitration proposal, on the other hand, which previously demanded that all players with two years of service time would become arbitration-eligible instead of having to wait for three years, has been altered.

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Media, please stop falling into the traps MLB sets for you

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MLB’s owners began their quarterly meetings in Orlando on Tuesday, and, given the current labor battle, much of what was said to preview said meeting had to do with the current staredown between the league and the players. Bob Nightengale tweeted this, but he was far from alone in the sentiment contained within:

The owners have their quarterly #MLB meetings beginning today in the Orlando area. Rob Manfred is scheduled to speak Thursday. #MLBPA executives are traveling to Florida and Arizona to meet with players. It leaves about 2 weeks to reach agreement to avoid delaying regular season.

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Mailbag: What is the players’ leverage in bargaining?

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As we’re in the midst of a lockout, there are surely questions that need to be answered about the state of labor negotiations and the processes involved. I’m happy to answer what I can, so please, if you have something in mind, ask away: you can send me an email at marcnormandin at gmail, respond to this newsletter email if that’s the format you’re reading it in, or ping me on Twitter.

Today’s question comes from @ERolfPleiss on Twitter:

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