Rob Manfred made an empty threat against Oakland

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Well, I hope you’re sitting down for this. It’s some real heavy stuff. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has threatened the city of Oakland. Saying the team could move to Las Vegas wasn’t enough: now the league is preparing to impose sanctions. In addition to claiming the A’s won’t be forced to pay relocation fees should they need to move, now Manfred has said if Oakland doesn’t give in and hand the A’s the stadium deal they’re looking for, so help them MLB is going to take away the A’s revenue-sharing dollars in 2024. May God have mercy on their souls.

If you can’t tell by all the ham above, this is some real goofy, empty threatening here, even my MLB commissioner standards. Neil deMause already covered quite a bit of the emptiness of it all at Field of Schemes, so you should read that, but I’ll grab a choice quote all the same:

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MLB will voluntarily recognize minor-league union

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It’s kind of wild to be typing this out even after having the weekend to process it, but Major League Baseball won’t be fighting the formation of a minor-league bargaining unit within the MLB Players Association. Instead, they’ll voluntarily recognize it, assuming the card check on Wednesday shows that there is, in fact, the support the PA says there is for this.

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Why the MLBPA hadn’t already organized minor leaguers

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You aren’t about to hear me say that the Major League Baseball Players Association has always had the needs of minor-league players in mind during their negotiations, but there is at least one persistent criticism of the union’s handling of minor leaguers that doesn’t carry much weight, and that’s the fact that they weren’t already part of the MLBPA. There have been reasons for things being split the way they are for decades — for the entire history of the Players Association as we know it today — and it’s only just recently that the environment has changed in a way where the PA could more formally lend assistance to the organization of minor-league players.

Back in 2012, Slate spoke to the PA’s first executive director, Marvin Miller, as well as Gene Orza, who spent 26 years working with the PA after being brought on as an associate general counsel, about the decision to not include minor-league players in the organizing of the MLBPA:

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Let’s break down the MLBPA moving to unionize minor-league players

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Late on Sunday night, there was major breaking news: the Major League Baseball Players Association was going to try to help prove that there’s enough support across Minor League Baseball for a union. They’re going to do this by distributing voting cards, per ESPN’s report and Evan Drellich’s confirmation, the idea is that, “The MLBPA will present the cards confidentially to the [National Labor Relations Board] to show both that a significant number of minor league players support having the MLBPA represent them and that a union election should be held.”

If you’ve never been in a union before, or part of a union that’s forming, the whole authorization card thing might be a little confusing. Essentially, it is a vote: whether it’s a vote that will be recognized by MLB and the NLRB depends on just how in favor of the PA’s representation and forming a union the over 5,000 minor-league players are. If, for instance, 75 percent of these cards are returned in favor of a union, MLB would be in a position where they should voluntarily recognize the union’s existence — essentially, the wide-ranging support would prove an actual formal vote isn’t necessary. MLB is unlikely to voluntarily recognize anything, however, whether it has 75 percent or unanimous approval, because they will want to wait this thing out as long as they can in order to hope that some turnover in the ranks of the players decimates support.

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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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