Maybe Now is the Time

We are soon to see whether the players union is willing to play or not. No, not on the field, in the negotiation room. The owners are prepared to send a formal proposal to the players for restarting the season, and while we’ve all read proposals, some bordering on silly, the formal presentation process typically signifies a real proposal that the owners really think has legs. In other words, it’s close enough to talk about. It will have real numbers built in and yes, it will be pre-negotiation, of course it will be a best-case scenario as to an expectation of what the players would accept. Ok, way worse than what they’d accept.

Some of the rhetoric coming from both sides if genuine is very much so a non-starter for baseball being played in 2020. For instance, the players already making sure the owners know they deem the luxury tax as a faux cap and won’t accept it moving forward has nothing to do with this season, no this is posturing for the CBA negotiation after 2021. Much of this has been that way.

I’m not going to detail this plan today, for one thing, I don’t have all the details, for another I think baseball this year is doomed unless one of two things happen. 1. The government gives baseball special permission to operate in cities that don’t want gatherings large enough to put on a baseball game, and I’m not even talking about in front of fans. 2. The players agree to play in selected locations. I’m sure that testing or safety precautions jargon will be built in too.

If baseball is indeed off the table for 2020, in my mind so is the player’s ultimate leverage. The fear of a strike and losing games suddenly isn’t as scary when you’ve just seen it. Without that the demands for dropping key competitive balance measures, which let’s face it didn’t work anyway, should fall on deaf ears.

I’ll be honest here; I’ve never been the type to take the owners side or the players side. I’m rooting for the fans, myself included. The game is in real trouble, some of it self-inflicted, some of it just got away from them as nobody ever imagined how gaping the divide would become. Bottom line, if there is going to indeed be no baseball this season, fix our game. I’m not interested in just having the game come back as it was, plus a DH and an extra roster spot. I’m not interested in the status quo where the Pirates can only win if they do everything right for the best part of a decade and still need luck to reach the promised land.

The players have one thing to negotiate with, themselves. They are arguably the best 750 or so players in the world, we sports fans want to see the best What would happen if the owners called their bluff? If fact, that’s what I am calling for at this point. Call their bluff! Get a cap. Fix our game.

Beside being an exciting game, you know why the NFL is so wildly successful? Because a team from Buffalo can make it to the AFC Championship any given season. A team in Pittsburgh can win two championships in 15 years and be considered an underachiever. A team in LA has just as much chance of stinking as a team in Minneapolis. It’s real, honest to god competitive balance.

The NFL has problems too, don’t get me wrong, the Franchise tag prevents free agency from being free. The lack of guaranteed contracts creates an environment where the contracts are scarcely worth the paper they’re written on. But it is miles ahead of MLB in this one area that is of utmost importance to fans, the ability to win, no matter where you live.

If MLB decided to tell the players to buzz off, and they allowed a new union to form from MiLB players, within 2 years we the fans wouldn’t know the difference. There would still be a homerun king, a Cy Young winner. Someone would still toss a no-hitter; a player would still hit for the cycle. But the two sides could come together and fix the economic system. Making every team spend to a level and not spend past a level. Without this key change, the league will continue to languish as a coastal sport.

Here’s what needs done:

  • Salary cap based on percentage of league revenue (this would allow individual teams to still have TV money from local contracts) In other words, it still allows the bigger cities to make more money, not spend more. This should rightly sit around 50%.
  • International draft. Too many games are played with this system and we must stop pretending we don’t live in an increasingly smaller world.
  • MiLB player pay increases, the game is suffering from having arguably the toughest and least lucrative path to being a pro and being paid like a pro.

Those are minimal. They come with the elimination of revenue sharing, luxury taxes, and all the other poison pills MLB built in previously to pretend they wanted to help competitive balance.

This situation is teaching both sides something they should have known all along, without compromise, there is no partnership. See the players want to do away with the luxury tax because it is a restriction on the amount players can be paid. I say open your eyes! Yeah it does restrict how much 5 or 6 teams can pay, but not having an actual cap is costing veterans the rich free agent contracts they once enjoyed. Would it be better to have 30 teams with a cap at 200K and basement at 100K or 5 or 6 teams who can spend 400K while 24-25 teams who top out at 120K? Even that statement is BS, as it pretends there are two tiers, It’s more like this, Tier 1 – Rich 5 or 6 teams, Tier 2 – Middle 20 ish teams, Tier 3 – Poor 4 or 5 teams. Guess where your Pirates fall.

Enough.

Call their bluff.

Within 2 years max we’d all be watching MLB. Yes, it would be sad to not see Bryce Harper hit a homerun again, but there will be another who comes along. No more Josh Bell, well I guess we’ll have to be satisfied with Mason Martin hitting 35 homeruns against the same pitching he’s doing it to now.

The game would change, but not forever. It wouldn’t be a permanent drop in talent level. At some point the number one picks come up and new stars emerge. The league immediately would have renewed balance and as the system takes hold the benefits would become apparent within 5 seasons.

The players have the power because we give it to them. We know they are the best in the world and I’ll not dispute that, but baseball has a unique situation, the next set of best in the world is already playing in the lower levels.

I can’t fathom 700 of those players giving up a chance to play at the height of their chosen profession to protect the ability of 50 members being able to receive 300 million-dollar contracts. In fact, I think we’d start to see defectors within the first year.

Am I right on all of this? Who knows, but I will say openly being unwilling to bend on anything that helps fix this situation in baseball will ultimately lead to, if not the death of, surely the contraction of the league.

Pittsburgh has a perfect storm; we legitimately have less revenue than 80% of teams in the league and on top of that a historically cheap owner. You are free to stop right there If you like. You can say it’s all about Nutting but you are decisively wrong, he’s just part of the puzzle. He just makes it worse.

If we the fans are sacrificing baseball this season, let’s use this opportunity to fix the game economically. What are they going to threaten? A Strike?

To be clear, I have great respect for the players and don’t begrudge them making as much money as anyone is willing to pay them, but the economics of baseball and the top-heavy distribution of talent can’t be ignored any longer.

We remember the 70’s so fondly and wonder how the Steelers stayed competitive while the Pirates took a nosedive. Look no further than the leagues themselves and remember the NFL didn’t get to this point without drama. They had a lock out. They had replacement players. Now they are a juggernaut, surpassing America’s old pastime by a country mile. Maybe that’s because any team from Seattle to Miami has a chance. Players still get paid obscene money. Owners still make obscene money.

Baseball, wake up.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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