I’m sure some of you noticed, we’ve been fairly quiet over here at Inside the Bucs Basement. There is something to be said for a period of reflection, a step back to help yourself to end the cycle of riding the waves and the emotion that comes with them.
Major League Baseball as you know is embroiled in a contentious restart negotiation, and as sport fans and social media are apt to do, many have chosen sides. I’ve tried to remain pretty centered, always reminding myself that both sides play a role in this utter failure to compromise, but as the news rolls in sometimes minute by minute it becomes harder to avoid the instant anger that it spawns.
I found myself in the middle of an argument on Twitter as to whether the players had any culpability here. I think it’s fairly obvious they do, but in an effort to argue my point I found myself reaching. Using examples for things the players did, including many I felt they were wholly justified in using, just to prove my point. In other words, winning the argument became more important than the integrity of my views. That’s just not right, nor do I want it to define me as a writer. When I don’t trust myself, it’s hard to ask readers to trust my opinion and I feared that’s where I was headed.
I write with emotion, call it a flaw if you like but it’s part of what makes me tick, that said, it can’t become all it’s about. So, what I’m going to try to do today is put it all on the table and see how we feel about the situation when we do the math. I don’t want to focus only on the immediate need to start playing, but let’s stare into the future a bit too because this negotiation has very much so been highjacked a bit by what’s coming.
First, let’s look at the player’s side of all this. Safety was important in the beginning, forgotten in the middle and resurrected as we’ve reached the end. When the players agreed in March to accept the agreement with the owners, they either didn’t read it closely, or completely misunderstood some of the implications. It seems they would readily accept a 70-game season with extended playoffs, but a 60-game season is completely out of bounds.
The owners have scarcely bent in weeks but did drop the demand that players dip below pro-rated pay for players in the last few rounds, but it came with the caveat of less games. 60 seems to be their high-water mark and somehow 70 is off the table. Safety is a concern, but I get the impression for the owners it’s more about liability than actual preparedness.
Now, that is a very simplified view of the stances each side are taking, but it’s tough to see this and not say, hey guys, could we just do 65 and call it a day? When the divide is that slim, I see no way to look at it without at least considering, neither side really wants to play. For instance, if Rob Manfred actually has to mandate a season, the league is completely open to liability, and they lose the extended playoff money. Is that worth 5 games of revenue losses, hell is 10 games worth that? Seems short-sighted to say the least and it really makes me question the motivation coming from this side.
The 5 to 10 game difference for the majority of players is negligible to be honest. Sure, the guys who make 30 million per season will feel it, but in the greater scheme of things we’re talking about a pretty small figure for the players largest segment. For every player making the league minimum, an extra 5 games would add up to a little less than 20K. I just can’t see this being a deal breaker for either group involved here.
Next we have all the whacky rule changes. We’ve heard about the DH, possible robo umps, extended rosters, taxi squads, extra inning games ending in a tie, extra inning games starting with a runner at second, relaxed substitution rules in extra innings and of course extended playoffs. Many of these items have been on Rob Manfred’s wish list for some time, and make no mistake, if they are implemented, they’ll not be easily eliminated. For much of this process I’ve dismissed these changes as being worth it entirely as having baseball this season in any form was the goal. Now if baseball is going to only play 60 games and Mr. Manfred is forced to implement it, most of these don’t happen, if they agree to 65 or 70 and sign a new agreement, many will be part of the deal. So, I ask myself, is a transformation of the game this drastic worth a 65 or 70 game season? I’m not sure I have an answer for myself yet, and I’d bet many of you are right there with me, but suffice to say, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
The final puzzle for me with the negotiation is my utter confusion as to how Rob Manfred and Tony Clark managed to talk themselves into having a face to face meeting, but neither were “empowered” by the groups they represent to hammer this out. Think about this, here are the two leaders and neither group trusted them enough to let them take this to the finish line. Now, if that doesn’t speak to the ineffectiveness of both of them, I don’t know what does. I don’t say that to bash these two as the only issue, surely everything I touched on is real, but how do they sit down, talk and formulate enough of a framework to take it back and still be this far apart? Like, how did Tony not say, hey Rob listen, if we can’t get to 70, we’re gonna have issues passing this. Maybe he did, maybe he told Manfred in that sit down what he needed to see, and Rob just shook his head in agreement and came up with 60 anyway just to “win”. Maybe it was reversed, we may never know, which is surprising since it felt like we were coming close to getting reports of bathroom breaks as it unfolded.
None of this addresses the serious disconnect between MLB and MiLB either. I’ll be honest, I’ve heard the MiLB players mentioned by a handful of writers, primarily writers who focus on MiLB as their gig. We’ve seen some players step up and offer to help support the minor league players, David Price probably most visibly, and I’ll note he was not the one who promoted his good will. We’ve seen some organizations step up and pledge to continue paying the players too which is great. I think what I come out of all this thinking is really that this group can not continue to have no seat with the MLBPA. There is just simply nobody looking out for them and while I understand they don’t have the same circumstances as the MLB guys, they can’t continue to be expected to thrive in this system. This event has shined a light too bright to ignore on just how much these guys are an afterthought. Imagine being a professional athlete and relying on charity to stay in the game. To draw the best athletes to the game, one thing baseball must tackle is making the path there a bit more attractive, they’ve done a terrible job of it at every level.
Finally, MLB must implement a cap. Just no way around it and I’m not going to slow pedal into it. Here is some reading on why it’s so important from two journalists I respect. Mike DeCourcy from The Sporting News and Dejan Kovacevic from DK Pittsburgh Sports.
Whether baseball is played this season or not, fixing the game at its core is of paramount importance and I’m more than fine with losing as much baseball as it takes to get it. This isn’t an anti-player view by the way, I’ve proposed in the past implementing a cap with revenue sharing and setting the cap way too high. This wouldn’t immediately help the Pirates, but it would prevent salary cap selloffs and enable teams time to adjust. They could even explore a slow roll into true revenue sharing to enable the system to avoid being a shock to the system. They could develop a signing bonus structure that operates outside the cap or in tandem with it like the NFL. So many options and so few restrictions on how it ultimately happens but the sport will continue its downhill track if they don’t address the competitive balance. It’s a reality that the league must stop ignoring. If you don’t agree, or think you need to show what a swell person you are because you want the players to make bank, I get that, but man it gets pretty tough to see a league that stays this size let alone expands if they don’t address it. That would seem to ultimately hurt the earning potential. We’re already seeing teams like the Red Sox pull the rip cord, they won’t be the last. When one of the 6 or so teams who can actually afford those top end contracts decides they won’t, where do you think that leads? And yes, I’ve heard how long it’s been since the Yankees or Dodgers won the World Series, I kinda pay attention to baseball ya know? The cap is less about saying the big guys win every year and more about understanding the function of hope. See when I embark on Spring training and the ultimate peak of hopefulness that comes with opening day, I can think of exactly 3 seasons I had real hope my team would win it all. That encompasses nearly forty years of fandom. Say what you will about the cheapness of some owners, but on Bob Nutting’s best day they simply won’t compete with many clubs on payroll. The Brewers won’t either. Sure, they spend more, but they can’t sustain it and I suspect when push comes to shove, they won’t ultimately be able to spend enough. They’ll wind up a dollar short or a day late. That said as a fan, I’d be so thankful to see them put it out there to keep Christian Yelich in town, the sad thing is I’d also know it probably will prevent them from retaining much beyond him.
It shouldn’t be that way. You should be able to accept down seasons as the downswing that precedes the up. There is a reason the free agent market stagnated, and in many ways avoiding a cap for all these years has sent the roosters home to roost.
So, there you have it, all these things and more have been swirling in my head. I’ll write more obviously but when the game I love shows no sign of an immediate future, it becomes difficult to look forward. When it becomes obvious the powers that be refused to learn from their game’s history it becomes a challenge to look backward as well.
Perhaps reflection is something that not only I should seek.