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  • CBA Musings (12/2): What’s Happening and What’s Next?


    Ted Schwerzler

    It’s here, and it’s anything but beautiful. As of December 1st at 11:59 pm EST, Major League Baseball’s CBA expired. Today, December 2, 2021, the league decided to lockout its players. A cold winter is upon us.

    Image courtesy of © Darren Yama****a-USA TODAY Sports

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    As we’ve discussed for weeks, the basic premise is that all Major League Baseball functions relating to teams and players at the highest level have ceased. Ownership and Rob Manfred are an entity, while the players and their union are the other. Everything else hangs in the balance. Despite the free-agent frenzy we’ve had the past week, or so, team sites are desolate wastelands giving nods only to Manfred's statement and players of yesteryear. Rosters are all but wiped out, and it’s as if the players do not exist (unless, of course, MLB can profit off of their likenesses through the official shop).

    There’s plenty of talking points to go over from the last week, and while free agency took most of the headlines, each of these subjects should be touched on. In no particular order, let’s get into it.

    The Ball Problem
    All year long, Major League Baseball was working through issues with the chief instrument in play during a game, the ball. First looking to rid the use of sticky substances and then going through in-game checks to verify compliance, new instructions had been introduced to the playing field. The only problem was that the league itself was playing unfairly. 

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    Thanks to research from astrophysicist Meredith Wills, a story broke regarding baseball using two different balls during the 2021 season. We had no-hitters popping off like crazy, and then all of a sudden, they were gone. In Bradford William Davis’ piece for Insider, he talks about the distrust the implications surrounding the ball have brought for players. MLB could be incentivized to create more offense in high-profile games. The league has many gambling partnerships, and changing the chief implement could also work to their benefit. With a lockout looming, cheating players out of a level of consistency when their entire earning power comes from statistical performance seems disingenuous at best. Everyone should be operating on a level playing field, but the league itself decided to tamper with the main component.

    CBA Adjustments
    In a piece filed to ESPN by Jesse Rogers, we are given a general idea of the negotiations regarding a new CBA center around. Major League Baseball has proposed expanded playoffs, going to 14 teams, which would benefit ownership with increased opportunities for revenue. The expanded playoffs would allow for division winners to pick their Wild Card opponents.

    With 14 teams making the Postseason, players are worried about a lack of competitive drive for organizations. Half of the league making the final tournament could depress a reason to spend in the offseason and further stifle wages for players.

    Another proposal from the league is to add a lottery system, giving each non-playoff organization a shot at the number one pick. The top three selections would become a part of this lottery with the hopes of removing a desire to tank and generate a beneficial draft standing.

    Evan Drellich’s piece at The Athletic talks about the issues creating the most discourse between the two sides. For the players, things are focused on the years it takes to reach free agency and revenue sharing implications. The owners are concerned about the luxury tax and raising the minimum salary thresholds. Proposals are often presented in a give-and-take scenario. The players will need to get creative regarding free agency and compensation as ownership has dug in on their stance regarding those topics.

    Understanding the Lockout
    With baseball currently shelved, there are some principles to understand as we move forward. The Athletic’s Evan Drellich put together an excellent primer earlier this week. By definition, a lockout is the work of ownership or the league. Those in charge have effectively told players, or their workers, that they are unwilling to work together unless the players accept their deal. On the flip side, a strike would be the players suggesting their services are no longer available until an agreement favors their position. Up until games are missed, a strike is not on the table.

    Because of the lockout, we will not see traditional offseason events take place. The Winter Meetings have been canceled, and that at least temporarily includes a postponement of the Rule 5 draft. Pitchers and catchers are set to report for Spring Training beginning on February 14, 2022. If we are still in this holding pattern come mid-to-late January, that’s when worry will start to feel real.

    This lockout is the first work stoppage in 26 years, going back to the 1994-95 strike. Lockouts, rather than strikes, are more capable of being overcome. To the average fan, anything missed in the offseason generally flies under the radar. Bud Selig needed Cal Ripken Jr.’s Iron Man streak and the Home Run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to save his sport last time. Rob Manfred would need something similar to draw fans’ interest back in should a strike commence, and it would be in the best interest of both parties to avoid that outcome.

    While locked out, the intention of collective bargaining must be to negotiate in good faith. This will be interesting as Major League Baseball is coming off a Covid-shortened season in which both sides put many of their concerns and qualms out in public. It was evident that there was a wide gap and plenty of distrust between the two parties during Spring 2020, and that was before the CBA had expired.

    What About the FA Frenzy

    As the lockout loomed, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA decided to move the non-tender deadline to November 30. With the December 1 deadline for a work stoppage effectively implemented, we saw free agents signing at a blistering pace. This is something baseball has often lagged behind the NBA and NFL. With free agency becoming an event this season, The Athletic’s Britt Ghiroli wondered if a transaction deadline isn’t necessary.

    Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told her, “When you have an ending, it forces decisions, like the trade deadline. Nothing ever gets done until that last week, and then it’s a flurry of deals the last two days because people know it’s game over, so they are forced to make a decision. I like that, it makes people just finally get in the game and pick a spot. Pick a lane to drive in. You are either in it or not in it, you are either in for a penny or a pound or whatever it is. I like that aspect of it.”

    Players have previously shot down the idea that a deadline would be a good thing as it would force them into decisions when time is the only thing on their side. One key difference between baseball and other sports is that MLB doesn’t have a salary cap. The piece highlighted agents and executives' stances, providing many different ways to think about a deadline. At its core, though, we are left with this parting thought, “It gets talked about a lot, but it’s never been something that seemingly has momentum,” (Ross) Atkins said. “So, what is the reason for that?”

    What’s On the Other Side?

    We’ve seen a busy couple of weeks with the lockout looming, but it could very well pale in comparison to what happens following the resumption of work. Travis Sawchik went back in time to look at what took place following the 1994 work stoppage.

    Although we’ve had a glut of free-agent signings in recent days, the reality is that there’s still so much yet to do. Arbitration figures must be exchanged, and hundreds of players are still looking for new homes in 2022. All of that must be completed, and we have no idea how long this lockout process will take.

    The calendar should be what we look to when trying to understand what’s to come. January is a crucial month, and where the divide lies then will likely determine future action for the sport. Spring Training games are the most reasonable to miss, and players would probably welcome that situation. Should business not commence until February, though, fans will likely experience one of the busiest months in history should the league look to start on time. Teams that have shopping yet to do, or transactions needing to be made, could be in for complete chaos with hopes of getting everything accomplished. As Twins fans, that’s potentially exciting with a payroll sitting at just $91 million and a roster yet to be filled out.

    We’re just getting started in this process, and so much more will be publicly available through the coming weeks and months. It will be challenging to determine what’s tactic and what has merit, but make no mistake that the league is set to use its platform as their megaphone. With MLB Network becoming an ownership talk show, MLB.com removing the workers, and teams disassociating from their talent, the players union will need to sway public perception with a much smaller outlet.

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    Hard to understand all the complexities at work here. Even though it seems like all sides (players, owners and fans) want increased competition in the league, there appear to be some big differences in terms of how to get there. 

    I can say that, for all the talk of "league parity," it sure seems like the high-profile teams experience very short playoff droughts, and the lower profile teams experience much longer playoff droughts. NY, CA and Chicago teams routinely go on spending sprees for FAs, all while revamping their state-of-the-art analytics and development facilities for drafting and developing talent. What choice do the lower-tier teams have but to cut payroll, wait for top draft picks to develop and hope that bargain FA contracts pan out?

    Additional revenue sharing and salary caps and floors seem pretty important to these aims. But there may be some issues or components I'm missing.

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    Disappointed with amount of "negotiating" that happened, seems each sided decided lock out was necessary. Sure there will be a month or so of a staring contest before anything moves toward a resolution. The amount of team control before FA seems to be a big issue to me. No other sport allows up to 10 years of team control before FA    (4 years if signed at 18 yo, 3 years service time, 3 more years in arbitration), This and disparity of spending between top and bottom payrolls. The owners don't want change in these areas but present system is unsustainable.

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    I  just don't understand how they can increase pay for younger players AND increase competition. If the small market teams have to pay more and/or lose them to free agency quicker, it just means they are more likely to trade them sooner or not spend as much during free agency. And I think people need to be realistic about what a salary floor can achieve. It may keep a few owners from pocketing revenue sharing, but there are only so many good players. A  floor would only increase the market for mediocre players and have little affect on competition. 

    If they really want the younger players to get a bigger piece of the pie, who's gonna give up theirs?  The owners? Not happening. The megastars making $300 million? Fat chance.

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    35 minutes ago, LewFordLives said:

    I  just don't understand how they can increase pay for younger players AND increase competition. If the small market teams have to pay more and/or lose them to free agency quicker, it just means they are more likely to trade them sooner or not spend as much during free agency. And I think people need to be realistic about what a salary floor can achieve. It may keep a few owners from pocketing revenue sharing, but there are only so many good players. A  floor would only increase the market for mediocre players and have little affect on competition. 

    If they really want the younger players to get a bigger piece of the pie, who's gonna give up theirs?  The owners? Not happening. The megastars making $300 million? Fat chance.

    The small market teams are making a fortune gaming the revenue sharing system. It's not that any team in baseball can't afford a competitive payroll, it's just more profitable for some teams to intentionally keep payroll and revenue low while collecting revenue sharing.

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    How can baseball, or any pro sport, be fair and competitive with some teams spending $300M a year on payroll, and others teams spending $40M?  No one could logically review that disparity and think each team has a fair shot to win each year.

    Raise minimum payroll to $150M per team, have a hard cap at $200M, and institute revenue sharing to make that work for the teams themselves.  I am spit balling the numbers, but that is an approximation.

    Players happy, lots of $ to go around.  Small and mid-market teams happy, they get to compete.  Fans happy, their team has a legit shot each year.  

    Only ones unhappy are the rich, big market teams.

    Boo frickin' hoo, I say.

    The rest of the disputes, like service time and arbitration, are easily compromised and negotiated once this framework is established.

    Look at the NFL you fools.  THAT is a good, competitive league.  Model yourself after that.

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    3 hours ago, Steve71 said:

    How can baseball, or any pro sport, be fair and competitive with some teams spending $300M a year on payroll, and others teams spending $40M?  No one could logically review that disparity and think each team has a fair shot to win each year.

    Raise minimum payroll to $150M per team, have a hard cap at $200M, and institute revenue sharing to make that work for the teams themselves.  I am spit balling the numbers, but that is an approximation.

    Players happy, lots of $ to go around.  Small and mid-market teams happy, they get to compete.  Fans happy, their team has a legit shot each year.  

    Only ones unhappy are the rich, big market teams.

    Boo frickin' hoo, I say.

    The rest of the disputes, like service time and arbitration, are easily compromised and negotiated once this framework is established.

    Look at the NFL you fools.  THAT is a good, competitive league.  Model yourself after that.

    The owners proposed reducing the luxury tax to $180MM and creating a $100MM floor back in September and are still pushing for it. No team in baseball has ever hit a $300MM payroll. The Dodgers in 2015 hit $273MM. Next highest is again, the Dodgers in 2017 at $242MM. In most years, the top team is around $220MM.

    Side note... you believe the NFL is more competitive than MLB?

    • Number of teams in the World Series since 2010 = 14 of 30 (47%)
    • Number of teams in the Super Bowl since 2010 = 15 of 32 (47%)
    • World Series since 2000 = 21 of 30 (70%)
    • Super Bowl since 2000 = 21 of 32 (66%)
    • Number of teams in MLB playoffs since 2010 = 28 of 30 (93%)
    • Number of teams in NFL playoffs since 2010 = 26 of 32 (81%)

    Despite having 2 more teams in the league and 4 more playoff teams every year, fewer NFL teams have made the playoffs in since 2010 and the same percentage of their teams have made it to the championship game.

     

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    The reason certain franchises do well in the NFL is NOT due to the finances.  It is due to having a great QB (e.g., Patriots, Packers, etc.), great coaching (Belichek), and great front offices.

    NFL has the most parity, when measured by the number of NEW playoff teams year to year.

    Conversely, money is a huge determining factor for success.  Not always, see Tampa Bay, but a huge factor.  And it sucks for fans to lose home grown talent to the major markets all the time.

    How long has the playoff drought been for Pittsburgh?  Are they EVER going to get to the playoffs again with their current spending and ownership?  They are basically a farm team for the rest of baseball.  If they had relegation, they would have been long gone.

    $180M and $100M is a good start, just need to move the goal posts higher and have full revenue sharing.  Tie those figures into a percentage of total baseball revenue that is adjusted each year, just like the NFL salary cap.

    If you truly believe that MLB has more parity than the NFL, I suspect you are in a small minority.

    Hope others chime in on this....

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    The problem as I see it is that neither side wants to end the competitive imbalance that currently exists. That, to me at least, poses a bigger problem as fans (rightly so) don't want to hear the bickering between either side...

    My fear is that this quite possibly the end of MLB... even if a new CBA is reached, I don't see how small market teams are going to be given a better shot at competing. 

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    Through all of this bickering, do the players and owners care about their fans?  Obviously not.  MLB has been going down hill for quite some time now.  If this lockout lasts into the spring and summer, the harm may be irreparable.  It's hard for many people to have much sympathy for either side.  This so called commissioner seems hellbent on destroying the once great game.  All at the behest of the owners.  Players if you are not satisfied with an average annual salary, quit.  Get a real job.  There's plenty of them out there.

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    Taking the Mod's suggestion above, can we discuss whether or not an NFL-style hard cap and floor with full revenue sharing is workable if MLB?  Is there any way in heck that they would consider such a drastic overhaul of the existing horribly unfair system?

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    Thanks for a very good summary.  This is the area of baseball that is too foreign for me.  I will be really sad to see another strike - I do not see a way for MLB to come back from a set back like that.  All sides will be hurt, but I do not have a solution.  Already MLB is hurt by the NFL dominance, now it has major league soccer growing, the NBA has taken on a higher profile and baseball has not made the adjustments that are needed.  In the NFL there are new rules every year to level competition, but MLB struggles to add a time clock - it saved the NBA and plays games with the ball, but does not look at the real causes of inaction and boredom.  Where it Epstein and his study?  

    A long winter for us year around fans.

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    I am sick of both the players and the MLB trying to get the fans on their side.  They did this during 2020 too.  They are asking generally people that make on average 31K a year to care about how much money they give each other.  They are fighting over the money that comes from us.  Even if you are not buying tickets, merch, you are still paying the increased cost of watching on TV, or the cost of the products that pay to advertise.  One way or the other you are paying.

    Personally, I do not care who gets what and how they split it up.  I would love to see some type of cap or at least incentives to allow the mid and small market teams to actually keep many of their players and not just 1 once in awhile.  Mid markets can keep 1 or 2 bigger names, but the small markets can almost never have a full career guy stay.  Personally, I think that is bad for game.  The players want to maximize what they make and do not care about balance. Owners do not care so much about balance they care about making money how ever they can, so they put in the luxury tax to help keep contracts down.

    I believe if the two sides keep trying to get the fans on their side in the media with letters to fans and press conferences, they will start to get more fans upset.  Then it could lead to a fans strike.  I mean it is like a fan gives the team $250 (average cost for family of 4 to go to a game 2021) and then the owners and players hold a debate with the fan to decide who should get how much of the money.  We just want to watch good baseball, and we really do not care how the money gets split up.  

    If fans decided to strike and boycott games then they will have no money to split up between each other.  Both owners and fans are acting like they are entitled to have us pay hard earned money to entertain us.  We have so many options for entertainment in our lives the costs keep going up.  NFL and NBA have it right with revenue sharing.  They understand that making fans happy will get more money for both groups, but making us upset will take money from them.  

    MLB and players think money will always come in and neither side really cares about the fans.  They claim they do, but if they did, they would work together at making the game the best it can be and not fight over our money, but be happy we are willing to give it to them. 

    The league better hope this does not go too deep into spring and start to lose games, because they will start to lose fans and then they will both lose money. Both sides need to understand how bad they look to fans trying to get us on their side. 

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    21 hours ago, Steve71 said:

    The reason certain franchises do well in the NFL is NOT due to the finances.  It is due to having a great QB (e.g., Patriots, Packers, etc.), great coaching (Belichek), and great front offices.

    NFL has the most parity, when measured by the number of NEW playoff teams year to year.

    Conversely, money is a huge determining factor for success.  Not always, see Tampa Bay, but a huge factor.  And it sucks for fans to lose home grown talent to the major markets all the time.

    How long has the playoff drought been for Pittsburgh?  Are they EVER going to get to the playoffs again with their current spending and ownership?  They are basically a farm team for the rest of baseball.  If they had relegation, they would have been long gone.

    $180M and $100M is a good start, just need to move the goal posts higher and have full revenue sharing.  Tie those figures into a percentage of total baseball revenue that is adjusted each year, just like the NFL salary cap.

    If you truly believe that MLB has more parity than the NFL, I suspect you are in a small minority.

    Hope others chime in on this....

    Did you not read my post? Like, seriously?

    Pittsburgh went to the playoffs in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Other than Seattle, I think Detroit has the longest playoff drought (2014).

    FACTS: Last 12 years, despite having 40% more teams which make the playoffs and more teams who could (32 vs 30), only 26 NFL teams have made the playoffs. 28 MLB teams have made the playoffs in the same span (I actually think I miscounted and only Seattle hasn't). That means, year in, year out, there is more turnover in playoff teams in MLB than the NFL.

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    bean5302, we were told not to debate parity here by the Mod.  We can agree to disagree.

    What is wrong with MLB adopting the NFL-style salary cap and floor system?  Would you or would you not agree that this would be superior to what is in place now?

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    On 12/2/2021 at 5:00 PM, Steve71 said:

    How can baseball, or any pro sport, be fair and competitive with some teams spending $300M a year on payroll, and others teams spending $40M?  No one could logically review that disparity and think each team has a fair shot to win each year.

    Raise minimum payroll to $150M per team, have a hard cap at $200M, and institute revenue sharing to make that work for the teams themselves.  I am spit balling the numbers, but that is an approximation.

    Players happy, lots of $ to go around.  Small and mid-market teams happy, they get to compete.  Fans happy, their team has a legit shot each year.  

    Only ones unhappy are the rich, big market teams.

    Boo frickin' hoo, I say.

    The rest of the disputes, like service time and arbitration, are easily compromised and negotiated once this framework is established.

    Look at the NFL you fools.  THAT is a good, competitive league.  Model yourself after that.

    The NY, California, Chicago, and maybe Texas team owners would love that. They could pocket billions. Local broadcast fees would have to be a part revenue sharing then.

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