Please stop blaming MLB’s players for the owners locking them out

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The Players Association and Major League Baseball are meeting on Monday for the second time post-lockout, with the former being the one to call this bargaining session in order to make a counter proposal to MLB’s from earlier in January. The first meeting of the new year and the lockout gave us an idea of where MLB is at this point — they are pretty clearly waiting around for the players to get antsy and cave as spring training and the regular season approach, hence their lack of movement and seemingly purposeful wasting of everyone else’s time with their last set of proposals — so now we get a chance to see if the players are even a little bit in the mood the league is hoping for, or if they’re also willing to stand by their previous proposals. Or at least the spirit of them, which was about furthering player choice while tweaking the models that already exist to remove loopholes, cut down on exploitation, etc.

We’ve got a real “both sides” thing going on here, as was discussed here on Friday in relation to Jomboy and Jomboy Media’s whole deal on Twitter, but the independent outlet and namesake is far from the only one working on this sort of thing. Bernie Pleskoff, who writes for Forbes and used to be a scout for the Mariners and the Astros, took some time this weekend to very publicly misunderstand everything going on in bargaining in order to throw down his own “both sides” complaint.

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Mailbag: The length of a CBA

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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 is on the length of collective bargaining agreements, courtesy @DJSloppyJoeM on Twitter. Let’s get to it:

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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:

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Happy new year, MLB’s lockout is ongoing

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Just because it’s now 2022 on the calendar doesn’t mean that we’re going to see progress in collective bargaining anytime soon. Nothing has changed from mid-December, when I published a newsletter titled “Don’t expect a quick resolution to the MLB lockout.” It’s now January, so, as was reported at the time by Evan Drellich, the two sides are expected to discuss core economics eventually, but “discuss” and “agree on” are not the same thing. MLB and the Players Association might be closer on a few items than MLB’s staunch refusal to take bargaining seriously pre-lockout might have indicated, but there is seemingly enough distance on other issues that it’s going to take more than a discussion or two before things can be ironed out in a meaningful way.

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Don’t expect a quick resolution to the MLB lockout

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“When will the lockout end?” is kind of an open question at this point. There was very little reason for it to end quickly after MLB’s owners enacted it, no matter how much optimism commissioner Rob Manfred might have publicly displayed in a lockout being a path to a quick resolution of the issues between the clubs and the players. Considering the MLBPA’s reaction to the lockout was basically “this is only going to make us angrier with you, you know” and a bunch of rolled eyes at Manfred’s letter, well, there is even less reason to believe that things are going to be smoothed out in a hurry.

Which is fine, of course, these things should take all the time they need to take in order to sort themselves out, but it is worth noting that we’re in for a long winter. The chances of this being resolved by springtime aren’t necessarily high, and I’m talking the seasonal date there, not the spring training one.

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MLBPA rep Ian Happ spoke on MLB’s inaction before the CBA expired

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The players haven’t said much with regards to specifics about the collective bargaining sessions with Major League Baseball, but we got a little bit of insight on the pre-lockout process from Cubs’ union representative, Ian Happ. The Chicago outfielder explained to 670 The Score how negotiations went in Dallas in the final days before the lockout began, and it all serves as further evidence that MLB had no intention of actually attempting to work things out before the previous CBA expired.

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On negotiating a potential expanded MLB postseason

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The MLB Players Association is correct to not give in to the owners’ idea of an economic proposal, but at some point, they’re going to need to concede some ground on the areas the league really cares about in order to bring about the kind of changes they want on their side of things. This isn’t meant to say, “hey, union, hurry it up!” or anything — take your time, guys, get that best version of a CBA no matter how long it takes — but more as a warning that some version of an expanded postseason is likely on the way.

The owners, obviously, want an expanded postseason. They want it for two reasons. The first is that more postseason rounds and games means larger (and maybe even more) national television contracts to broadcast postseason games. The second is that teams can make it to the postseason more often without actually trying to, which will help combat the idea that a significant chunk of the league regularly isn’t putting in anything close to their best effort, or any effort at all. After all, they just made the postseason!

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MLB’s lacking luxury tax increase a reminder of the limitations of bargained thresholds

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Just a few weeks back, in reaction to one of the few economic proposals Major League Baseball actually bothered to submit while the now-expired collective bargaining agreement was still active, I wrote about how MLB’s pay-for-WAR, algorithmic plan to replace arbitration could not work without revenue scaling. Two days into the lockout, it’s time to give another example as to why any of these plans that rely on bargaining financial thresholds have the same inherent problem, and that’s because of how MLB has treated the raising of the luxury tax threshold during talks so far.

As was reported by Evan Drellich, MLB proposed raising the luxury tax threshold from the 2021 figure of $210 million to $214 million, with it eventually reaching $220 million by the final year of the new CBA. That’s clearly just a starter offer in terms of raising the luxury tax threshold — the numbers would almost surely be at least a little bit bigger if the two sides were finished negotiating by now — but what sticks out to me is that it’s presented as a concession at all. Not by Drellich, who is one of the few writers at a major outlet who is actually nailing the framing and depth of their coverage, but by MLB. Inflation exists. Revenues climb. The value of money changes over time. The luxury tax threshold increasing should just be a thing that is expected to happen, not something that is considered a concession, especially not with the minuscule bumps the league is proposing.

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A busy weekend for free agents suggests a lockout is likely

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We’re just a few days away from the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement: when the clock strikes midnight and December 2 arrives, that’s it. There was a sudden flurry of free agent activity this weekend, with likely more to come — Max Scherzer is rumored to be close to a deal with the Mets, but as of this writing nothing is official — and there is a pretty reasonable explanation for it all that MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweeted on Sunday night:

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A brief history of MLB’s lockouts

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The history of strikes in Major League Baseball gets a lot of play in historical look backs, but lockouts? Not nearly as much. Baseball Reference’s comprehensive encyclopedia Bullpen doesn’t even have a page just for lockouts: it just lumped them in with the “Strikes (labor)” page instead. Part of this lack of attention is because there has never been an MLB game canceled because of a lockout: even the one that dragged into the start of the season just pushed back when games were played. They tend to be a thing that occurs during spring training, with the owners balking at some demand the players are making, and then, the lockout ends shortly after.

So, with a lockout potentially on the horizon this winter or next spring, let’s take a look back at the previous times the owners locked all the doors to keep the players out.

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