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What If Baseball Gives Us the Opposite of 2020?


Ted Schwerzler
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Right now, Major League Baseball is enduring a lockout. Rob Manfred has shut out the players, and neither side has done any work regarding a resolution for over a month. We’re quickly approaching Spring Training, but games will likely be missed. What if we have the opposite of 2020, and there’s no Major League season at all?

Why is that the opposite? Remember, this lockout revolves around only Major League Baseball and its players. Minor League Baseball is not covered under that umbrella, and while that’s often to its detriment, that means affiliated action will go off without a hitch in the year ahead. During the pandemic shortened 2020 season, we had a 60-game big-league schedule and no minor league action. There was the birth of Alternate Sites, but no games of record took place. Fast forward to where we are now, and a year of development could come on the farm with nothing taking place at Target Field.
 
It’s a really weird thing to think about, the minor league feeder system taking place with no ultimate goal being represented for a year. However, the reality is that it’s on the farm where the most development happens, and losing that season was highly disappointing for plenty of prospects. If time were to stand still on the Major League side, the year would be solely focused on developing the next wave of prospects.

While that could be a good thing for guys a bit further away, it's certainly an unfortunate reality for some of the Twins best young talents.

Two situations come to mind, and the biggest of them may involve Royce Lewis. Minnesota’s top prospect hasn’t played a game since 2019. After losing the season to Covid, he tore his ACL before 2021 even began. Still an elite talent, Lewis is looking to distance himself for down results last time he was on the field and also trying to build on a swing and position that both still have question marks. There’s no doubt Lewis is a big part of Minnesota’s future, and he has an outside chance of reaching the majors this season. Having recently been added to the 40 man roster, he'd be stuck in limbo with no opportunity to get back on the field but also being pushed further from his ultimate goal. In a cascade of continued unfortunate events, it'd be nice to see Lewis catch a break.
 
The other grouping includes players that could use the additional time to develop and now won’t have that opportunity. After struggling, Trevor Larnach was sent back to Triple-A, and Jose Miranda is still a young kid. Throw in arms like Jordan Balazovic or Jhoan Duran, and there’s a lot of young talent on the Twins 40-man roster. Like Lewis, having been added to the 40-man, none of those players would be eligible to participate in minor league games. Irrelevant is whether they have options or could be maneuvered around the roster. With the league locked out, no transactions are permitted, meaning the pool of players for organizations solely becomes those not on a 40-man roster.

At the end of the day, we’re going to have meaningful baseball, and that’s a great thing. Unfortunately, my belief has dwindled that we’ll have a full Major League season, and if there isn’t one at all, it may help as many guys as it hurts. Really this all comes down to Rob Manfred and the league working through this with the union so everyone can get back to work.

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I can't see MLB players being willing to lose a full season of Baseball checks.  That is not going to fly and their rep will never get that kind of buy in.  I can see the players being willing to sacrifice spring training though and expect them too.  If they think it puts pressure on the owners they might skip a few months of the season but owners don't really get hurt with a work stoppage since they don't have to pay salaries.  The players do get hurt because they won't get checks for playing supposedly the game they love.  

Let's be honest the owners hold most of the cards here.  Also it is in neither sides interest to lose the fans and losing a full season of baseball could very well have fans moving onto other pursuits there are plenty of things to do besides follow baseball. Both sides let that happen and fans don't come back then salaries could plunge and the game slowly die.

I have heard reports that if they can't reach a pact that the players might be willing to play this season based on the current CBA.  That might make some sense as owners won't like the uncertainty and the players will still get checks.  I think the players goal is mainly to hold out and not cave to whatever MLB proposes.  As best I can tell that will be the strategy unless of course they get most of what they are asking for.  Losing a full season of baseball is too great a risk for either side IMO.

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I can't see the whole season being cancelled.  I could see another 60 game season, but I don't expect it'll get that far either.  

A cancelled season would be a major blow to the sport.  I don't know if either side acknowledges or cares about that, but that would be worse than the '94 strike.

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23 minutes ago, The Mad King said:

If there is no MLB, fans should boycott the MiLB games. Team owners will raise prices in hopes of cashing in on desperate fans. Attendance would go up, concessions etc, meanwhile the players are still making their minor league salaries. With no hopes of moving up. 

MiLB are often not owned by the same people as the MLB franchise. MiLB owners spend millions to secure a affiliate contract with MLB and work out a final contract with an MLB franchise. St. Paul Saints tickets are already harder to get, and often more expensive in the secondary market, than Twins tickets for any given game. Punishing the MiLB players who want to play in front of a crowd and the MiLB franchise owners who are often turning very small profits because you're mad at the owners of MLB isn't rational.

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I'd honestly expect owners to move ahead with replacement players relatively quickly once the regular season games start needing to be canceled due to a CBA not being finalized. Remember, MLB recently culled a number of MiLB teams leaving a whole lot of baseball player talent with no where to go and MiLB players would happily cross the picket lines for a shot at the big show. Even 40 man roster players would be seriously tempted since the MLBPA has done absolutely nothing for MiLB players while the owners have recently sowed dissent with the MiLB players and the MLBPA by improving working conditions recently. 

The MLBPA would be powerless except for to once again, file an unfair labor practice charge; however, the reason the last one was successful was because of several key moves amounting to collusion to alter the actual market for players. Also, it helped that one of the most liberal judges in the US was hearing the case. There's no guarantee the MLBPA would be effective this time around... and if they were to lose, the MLBPA would crumble apart entirely. The union would be broken and a new union would need to be formed.

 

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12 hours ago, bean5302 said:

I'd honestly expect owners to move ahead with replacement players relatively quickly once the regular season games start needing to be canceled due to a CBA not being finalized. Remember, MLB recently culled a number of MiLB teams leaving a whole lot of baseball player talent with no where to go and MiLB players would happily cross the picket lines for a shot at the big show. Even 40 man roster players would be seriously tempted since the MLBPA has done absolutely nothing for MiLB players while the owners have recently sowed dissent with the MiLB players and the MLBPA by improving working conditions recently. 

The MLBPA would be powerless except for to once again, file an unfair labor practice charge; however, the reason the last one was successful was because of several key moves amounting to collusion to alter the actual market for players. Also, it helped that one of the most liberal judges in the US was hearing the case. There's no guarantee the MLBPA would be effective this time around... and if they were to lose, the MLBPA would crumble apart entirely. The union would be broken and a new union would need to be formed.

 

I am not an expert in labor law, but my limited understanding is if the owners use replacement players when they locked out the players, they could be facing long litigation with possible billions in damages.  I find it highly unlikely they would go to replacement players and unless both sides have no movement on the economic side of things.  Also, choosing to do replacement players early on will drive an even wider division between both sides, and maybe they get a short deal done, but it will just to lead continued issues down the road. 

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We will see what happens tomorrow, but I cannot imagine both sides wanting to push this thing far enough to have the whole 2022 season (or even a large portion of it) called off.  If you think what happened in 1994-95 was bad for the sport, think about what losing a whole season (after playing through COVID) because owners and players can't figure out how to split up billions upon billions of dollars would look like.  It would not be good for the owners or the players to lose the 2022 season.

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12 hours ago, Trov said:

I am not an expert in labor law, but my limited understanding is if the owners use replacement players when they locked out the players, they could be facing long litigation with possible billions in damages.  I find it highly unlikely they would go to replacement players and unless both sides have no movement on the economic side of things.  Also, choosing to do replacement players early on will drive an even wider division between both sides, and maybe they get a short deal done, but it will just to lead continued issues down the road. 

The NFL has done it previously in 1987 and threatened to do it again in 2011. If there is no CBA in place, the "Basic Agreement" which governs contracts under the CBA becomes void. 

I'm sure the MLBPA would sue. In the United States, you can sue for whatever you want, trillions even. It doesn't mean the MLBPA would be successful. In the meantime, unless an injuction was imposed based on a complaint filed for unfair labor practices by the MLBPA, the league would continue to operate and the players would continue earning nothing while they watch their permanent jobs start being earned by the former MiLB players. Any lawsuit would have to be ended as a condition of any future CBA MLB would agree to so it's pretty moot. In such a scenario, the MLBPA would break in days or weeks. While it's possible the MLBPA would be dissolved, it's unlikely because even MLB wouldn't want a total free for all. It's more likely the players would have a new set of rules much less favorable crammed down their throats as the season goes on and fans continue going to games.

You may disagree, but that's how I see things.

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9 hours ago, bean5302 said:

The NFL has done it previously in 1987 and threatened to do it again in 2011. If there is no CBA in place, the "Basic Agreement" which governs contracts under the CBA becomes void. 

I'm sure the MLBPA would sue. In the United States, you can sue for whatever you want, trillions even. It doesn't mean the MLBPA would be successful. In the meantime, unless an injuction was imposed based on a complaint filed for unfair labor practices by the MLBPA, the league would continue to operate and the players would continue earning nothing while they watch their permanent jobs start being earned by the former MiLB players. Any lawsuit would have to be ended as a condition of any future CBA MLB would agree to so it's pretty moot. In such a scenario, the MLBPA would break in days or weeks. While it's possible the MLBPA would be dissolved, it's unlikely because even MLB wouldn't want a total free for all. It's more likely the players would have a new set of rules much less favorable crammed down their throats as the season goes on and fans continue going to games.

You may disagree, but that's how I see things.

Sounds about right to me other than I don’t think the union would cave quickly even if replacement players were brought in.  I have wondered about the point you made regarding would the owners want to the union to go away and I also contemplated would the game we be better off.  I am not a lawyer either but the first question is what would prohibit the league from adopting a set of guidelines similar to the CBA provided those guidelines did not violate anti-trust guidelines.  If the exact same agreement was used without a union in place would it all the sudden become illegal?  IDK but you would think the teams could agree to operate as they have under a CBA.  Then, again, I am not a lawyer and even if I were I doubt this could be answered with certainty.

Hopefully we never have a covid situation again but that situation illustrated the added complexity in resolving problems when a union is involved.  For example, had there been no union, the teams could have offered two-thirds pay for anyone that wanted to play.  Anyone who did not want to work for 2/3 pay could have sat out the season and we would have had 100 or 120 games.  The game faces other challenges that will require change.  Would it be easier to resolve without the players holding up changes as a bargaining chip.

There is also the matter of the union pressing hard for some things that would not be good for the game. We are in this situation because the owners are only willing to reduce team control after a certain age.  The demands to eliminate revenue sharing while at the same time significantly increasing the luxury tax threshold.  There is no way around it, these three things would be bad for at least half of the teams and bad for baseball in general.  Therefore, under the assumption teams could and would form an agreement very similar to the CBA, I don’t see why they would be concerned about the union going away.  
 

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It's ridiculous all the manipulations that goes on, this waiting game. It hurts everyone. It really hurts Lewis because I think he can't train at the Ft. Meyers until this is settled, and if the season is cancelled or greatly delayed that will further delay his being introduced to the MLB.

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3 hours ago, Major League Ready said:

...I am not a lawyer either but the first question is what would prohibit the league from adopting a set of guidelines similar to the CBA provided those guidelines did not violate anti-trust guidelines...

It's a catch-22. Because of the anti-trust exemption, if the MLBPA negotiates with MLB to create the CBA, then it's okay. If MLB does it on their own, it can be viewed as unfair labor practice and collusion which absolutely would be a problem in the courts. MLB unilaterally setting rules which were viewed as directly manipulating the free agent market was why Judge Sotomayer ruled against owners in 1995 and blocked the teams from playing with replacement players. Without a union, MLB has to be very careful about compensation and work condition rules.

This whole mess boils down to the MLBPA having exceptionally lousy leadership.

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