Why Does MLB Want a Mediator for the CBA Negotiations?

2-5-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Here’s the truth, it’s probably not to mediate.

As with anything MLB proposes, they’re of course willing to accept it, but more often than not they’re simply looking for movement from the players.

It’s important to note after the last proposal from the players that really didn’t move much, the owners pledged they’d respond with another proposal of their own. After a couple days, they changed their tune, saying they wouldn’t respond and instead asked for mediation from a federal department that specializes in labor negotiations.

The players of course rejected that (which the owners expected and wanted) because these two sides aren’t at a point where they need help fine tuning an agreement or where they need to knock off one more thing that’s troubling the deal, instead they are miles apart on multiple fronts and actively making proposals.

So why would the owners want to mediate? Why wouldn’t the players? Let’s dig in on this today.

The Players

First of all, the players being painted as some greedy outfit that won’t budge on anything is exactly what the owners want the perception to be. When you get an opportunity in negotiations to force the other side to say no to just about anything immediately, especially if it’s something that sounds completely benign or altruistic on the surface, it’s a win.

The players know that, but they also know if they were to surrender to mediation where they are right now the mid point between where they sit and the owners rest would put them firmly in an owner’s win territory.

In their minds, as long as progress is being made, keep coming back to the table. Hell, I bet the next step for them is to suggest an end to the lockout and to play 2022 with no CBA while negotiating a new one. We’ve seen that movie before, and last time it cost the league a World Series. They also wouldn’t truly be able to just play under the last CBA, there is a wall built in for the existing Competitive Balance Tax that expired and can’t just be popped back in even temporarily without bargaining.

Another interesting point that Evan Drellich of The Athletic brought out recently and most fans (me included if I’m honest) don’t realize. MLB doesn’t have completely closed books. They have to share with the players audited documents regarding revenue. This isn’t complete open books as it doesn’t cover all revenue streams such as real estate surrounding the ballpark, parking, things like that. Terrific piece, check it out if you like, it is a pay site.

Point of all that, well, the perception has always been that the players were only guessing about the kind of money teams have, this suggests it’s a bit more educated at least.

Thing is, the players do likely have an idea of what percentage they currently get, which I won’t even try to dispute is probably not as much as it should be, but at least this road block is not as vast as we thought it was. I’ve long said this was one of the biggest impediments to getting a salary cap system, that seems less daunting now to me.

The Owners

Remember this line I wrote the other day about the CBA?

If you take nothing else from this piece, take this, when two sides are $95 million apart, and right up against missing the start of Spring Training, then one side moves all of $5 million, it’s not going well.

Well, here we are.

Rob Manfred has been around for quite some time, acting as outside counsel in 1994 when the league sought mediation to end the work stoppage. So he of all people knows it went terribly, and for that very reason I believe asking for it now, when it was very clear it would be rejected was strategic. They wanted the PR, not the actual result.

Why? I mean what incentive could the owners possibly have to play a PR game when losing baseball games is literally right on the doorstep?

Tell you what, I’ll get into that in the next section, let’s stay on track for now and finish trying to understand what the owners have to have to open this thing up.

Take the CBA from last year, add in the DH, the expanded playoffs and a slight increase to the minimum salary, this group would sign. Now as soon as they start giving on things outside this group of items, the return they want is exorbitant.

The players have a real list of needs, the owners don’t.

My Conspiracy Theory

In 1994 once the owners brought in a mediator and it failed, they used their last legal recourse, declare an impasse and make their last, best offer which in that case was to unilaterally impose a salary cap system. They lost this legal argument because they didn’t properly have their ducks in a row, and I already told you Rob Manfred was involved in that event, so don’t assume he learned nothing. Also don’t assume most of what we’ve seen has been in an effort to make sure everything that needs done is done.

The league has already proposed a weak salary cap system during this negotiation. It was unanimously voted on and put forward as an official proposal. This is a step that wasn’t properly taken last go round. They’ve shown a willingness to move on every request from the players, even if nowhere near enough. And now they’ve asked for mediation which is the beginning of laying the groundwork for claiming a deal can’t happen.

It’d be hard to claim they are near a stalemate right now, but I’d expect one more significant move toward an agreement and if it doesn’t change, the nuclear option could be on the table.

Conclusion

Some fans are simply going to be mad because they just aren’t going to see past the simplistic. They want baseball games, these people are keeping it from happening = mad. I get it, but to me the only outcome that would be unacceptable is to lose games and come out of it with anything less than a cap system.

Slightly better with loss of games, nope. Worse with no loss of games, nope. A cap system sounds so scary to players who think it’s immediately going to kill their ability to make money, and that makes sense, if you live with no rules for years and years you aren’t going to like it when they’re applied. I make no bones about the fact I want a cap system, but note, I don’t say it has to be for anything less than an assurance the players get at least 50% of revenue. Something they couldn’t say right now. See I don’t care who “wins”, I want everyone to make out. Competitive balance, and well compensated players make for a healthy league with a thriving and invested fan base.

We’re no longer in a situation where we can say the big market teams don’t want a cap. They just voted for it. We can’t say the small markets want to avoid a floor, again, they just voted for it. We can’t say the books have to be opened before this could happen, we now know that’s not as shadowy as we used to believe. And finally thanks to the Rockies owner we now know “Some owners can’t afford their teams because of all these other costs.” This also from The Athletic who have done some great work reporting on all this. The other costs seem to pertain to new COVID restrictions and protocols, but the reality that not every team is capable of playing with the big boys is out there officially. That in and of itself is a revelation, not because most of us didn’t know, but because it’s never been publicly said in any official capacity. This was sprung at the negotiating table.

Losing baseball games is all but a given at this point.

Picking a bad guy in this isn’t important to me. I couldn’t care less who you like or don’t, who’s destroying the game or trying to save it. I just want a fair system, that fixes the structure of the league economically and since the owners set the work rules, it’s hard to focus on any other entity as more capable of fixing it.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

4 thoughts on “Why Does MLB Want a Mediator for the CBA Negotiations?

    1. Those high salaries exist solely because of the unions. Take them away and players make as little as they did in the early days of sports–before they unionized. Why on earth should anyone other than the players–literally the industry in and of themselves, which has progressed quite a lot the last few decades–take home the majority of the pay, let alone the owners who often do very little actual work?

      Gary, I know I’m late (better than never!), but this is a great post with multiple valuable insights from The Athletic and such. The owners’ “negotiations” to this point are 100% PR strategy, and one need not own a bunch of newspapers like Nutting to work the propaganda machines. You can call it simply a theory–I don’t see any conspiracy to your thoughts. I couldn’t agree more with the conclusion, and I really wonder what more it’ll take for enough ordinary people to stop bootlicking and realize billionaires are parasites who’ve robbed us blind for their entire existence.

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  1. Owners are taking all the risk. They are putting up the capital. Players have a choice to play or not. These players are getting paid to play a game they love and take no capital risk. Nobody is forcing them to play. Bust the unions! Distribute more wealth from the game to the support staff!

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