The Waiver Claim Pt. 4—The CBA, Concerns, and the Future of Baseball
Let’s set the scene.
After committing over $1.7 billion in guaranteed salaries to 50 players in the span of two weeks, Major League Baseball’s 30 owners claimed they are too poor — and pandemic-related losses too great—to satisfy the players’ ever-increasing financial demands, thus instituting the league’s first work stoppage in over 25 years.
Makes sense, right?
At midnight on Dec. 2, anything and everything Major League Baseball came to a screeching halt.
The then-current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which outlines the league’s financial particulars and other off-field matters, like scheduling, expired and was not immediately replaced. Though not forced to do so, the league and its owners locked out its players and instituted a freeze on major league transactions (which, if you’ve read the first three entries in this series, is a death sentence on this writer).
So, for the foreseeable future, the baseball news cycle will revolve entirely on the progress (or lack thereof) made in negotiations between the league office and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA). The typically long, drawn-out, slog of an offseason will be even more so as long as the two sides fail to reach an agreement.
Ironically, the threat of an impending lockout forced one of the most condensed spending sprees in recent memory. MLB’s free agency, which has historically moved at a glacial pace, evoked the NFL and NBA’s respective frenzies. It’s just laughable that the game’s bubbling tensions are what kicked finally things into high gear.
What the owners want
Somehow, the league and its teams feel like they’re playing on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, that’s the exact language that Commissioner Rob Manfred and multiple teams used in their “letters to baseball fans” released shortly after the lockout was instituted.
The idea that players should be paid closer to their market value — which is the antithesis of the arbitration and reserve systems that have been in place for decades—is being viewed as an attack on the integrity of the game. Keep in mind, it’s the shift in thinking among front offices over the last 20 years, which prioritizes cheap, controllable talent, that has put the state of the game where it is.
If the owners can force the players to move off their demands and maintain the financial systems currently in place, it sounds like they’ll consider that a victory in negotiations.
Additionally, an expanded playoff structure, which would ensure more money in teams’ pockets, is near or at the top of the owners’ priorities.
What the players want
It’s easy for the outside observer to say something along the lines of “this is just billionaires fighting against millionaires. Figure it out and play ball.” Yes. Kind of.
It’s a common misconception that all baseball players are filthy rich multi-millionaires. The reality, and what the MLBPA is trying to address, is that only a small percentage of players remain in the game long enough to reach the open market, where they can be paid anything close to their actual value.
Whether it’s lowering the years of service required to reach salary arbitration, doing the same for free agency, or blowing up the financial system as a whole so that teams are incentivized to win games (crazy, right?) and put the best teams on the field at all times, it’s clear that the status quo just won’t do for the Union.
The only thing the two sides likely agree on right now is that every effort should be made to ensure that there are games being played as scheduled in 2022. It seems unlikely that this would happen. There’s too much at stake and too much money to be lost on both sides to enter the season still in a stalemate, right? This could be over in a couple of weeks or months. No one really knows.
(It isn’t promising when the league pulls petty moves like removing all of the Union-owned player headshots from its website the second the Agreement expired, though.)
If this article read extremely biased toward one side of the negotiating table, that was pretty much the point. Labor is a good thing. Unions are a good thing. Collectively bargained rights for workers, without whom the businesses would cease to exist, are a good thing.