MLB’s Labor Dispute Has Reached the Edge of Reason

2-19-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Make it make sense.

I’ve said from the beginning of this, I’m fine losing games if it fixes the game, thing is, that’s not where this is headed. Instead what it looks like to me is the league fighting to keep things as close to unchanged as possible.

Instead of going on the offensive and fighting for something fans could get behind, they’re instead trying to fend off player demands and bending on some of them in the name of the very few things MLB actually cares about accomplishing.

In other words, MLB largely would have been happy with the system the way it was, adding in extended playoffs. So the first question, as a fan I have to ask is, why lockout the players then? I’d also ask, why propose the floor and reduced CBT level?

Those are two outliers that smack in the face of MLB not wanting much to change. One would be a huge change of course, and the other can be taken as nothing more than a preemptive strike. In other words, they had to have assumed from the player’s list of demands was going to ultimately lead to a strike situation.

Another possibility could be that with the CBT expiring, MLB didn’t want to go through an entire offseason before establishing/reinstituting those controls. This could be in an effort to control their own membership as much as anything. For instance, let’s say there are 4-5 teams that actively don’t want to go over the threshold but could, that’s probably a realistic number anyway. Well, without that CBT threshold being established, hell without the existence of a CBT it might pigeon hole the owners in negotiation. For instance if there are 6-7 teams beyond what the league proposes, it’s an easy argument to hand the players.

I’ll be honest though cause this is what I just can’t get past, if the owners win, I mean they get 14 teams in the playoffs, the CBT back in place, even if it’s a bit higher, the DH and nothing much changes beyond that of substance, was it worth losing games? Real hard for me to get there.

Now, if the alternative was putting in place even 50% of what the players have proposed, selfishly, it makes the Pirates situation even worse. That has me torn because, I’d still rather not have to lose games just to prevent changes to the game.

So, why propose the floor thing at all? Was it a threat, you know, intended to show the players if they don’t play ball this is the direction we’re prepared to go? If so, I question the wisdom of pulling it off the table as soon as players presented, like, everything you thought they would.

It would have been an ineffective cap system but would have at least built in the structure to build on.

The players of course want more money and to their credit, both sides have tried to creatively address getting money into the hands of specific types of players. Again, what’s the end game?

The owners simply aren’t going to eliminate revenue sharing, or reduce it. The owners won’t even discuss cutting a year of control for young players. And the two sides are actually growing farther apart on this weird pool of money they want to build for youngsters.

Feels to me like we’re headed toward missing games, with expanded playoffs, some minimally impacting bonus structure for young players, a slightly increased CBT, and a DH.

If you’re going to lose games, I’m sorry, you have to have something major you’re fighting for.

From the players side, OK, you’re asking for some pretty big movers there, I can see feeling losing games is worth it, albeit entirely unlikely.

So say this drags on, at what point does it become a loss for the owners to come back with no real wins? Give them what they really want, the playoffs, DH and CBT, is that enough to lose 30 games? What’s their F it point, and more importantly, what would that spawn? Is there a point where they’ve lost enough that they say to themselves, hey the only reason we were agreeing to these things was to avoid losing games, so screw that?

This is already the second longest shutdown in the sport’s history, so you’d have to think it’s on a path to the types of thoughts I’m writing here.

Here’s another question I can’t shake. If the goal was for minimal changes and to not lose baseball games, why wait so long to talk? For that matter, why continue to take so long in between talks?

Doesn’t that almost smell like wanting to lose games? Kinda feels like there’s a possibility this has all been an elaborate effort to reach an impasse, not a season’s beginning. Sorry, no way to do this without having you picture me writing this with a tin foil hat on, I know it sounds conspiratorial but the more I try to make sense of how this process has played out, the more I can’t help but wonder about the end game.

If they were to miss 60 games and somehow make things worse for teams like the Pirates, I think they’ll lose fans. Lose the same amount and have things stay roughly the same for the same teams, I think they’ll lose fans.

Lose games at that level and come back with something teams in fly over country can genuinely believe make things more plausible for them and their rooting interest, is break even. Lose even more games for an outcome like that and lose fans period.

So I ask again, what’s the end game? Those two paragraphs are my opinion of what some potential results would bring about, they certainly don’t have to share my impression of what fans would do or say, but they will assuredly have to confront it.

In other words, I don’t have to be right about what fans want to see or how they’d react, but the facts are, they’ll have to face it either way. A quick glance of social media, podcasts, journalistic coverage and even fake media like me and it’s plain to see, this is causing fan pain, and worse, the early onset of apathy. Apathy is a concept Pirates fans are much more familiar with than most fan bases. In fact, many of you who consider yourselves fans today are freshly back from your own bout with apathy as of the 2011-2012-ish timeframe when the Buccos lured you back.

I remember hearing people say they were done with the game because of inequities in the economics back in 2009 before catching the fever a year or two later. Only 15 years prior we were watching our team, that in 1993 had the highest payroll in the game suffer the first loss to the new power in baseball, TV money. We’d watch Barry Bonds walk away followed by Bonilla, and Bell, and VanSlyke, and well, everybody. And boom the strike over the owners wanting to institute a salary cap to nip the problem in the bud that everyone saw coming and some had immediately felt.

That was the moment where this pain should have been felt. It was manageable back then. They could have contained the issue, and much like the NFL grown with that system in place to collectively build a sexy and exciting product. One that could nationally present a random Orioles vs Mariners game in mid August and increase the chances it has meaning, if not playoff implications. Deep and more supported rivalries develop when more games are meaningful.

Players would still be making monster money, much like the other sports, these systems have work arounds built into the management of cap allowances, and with everyone having legitimate stake in making the game the best product it can be due to assured revenue percentage based distribution, the growth of revenue rises faster than inflation.

Alas, they didn’t have the fortitude to see it through, and wrestled back a modicum of control with the competitive balance tax, the control that is literally gone. The CBT had a wall, independent of the CBA. It took a while to start actually preventing anything. In the past 5-10 years though, fewer and fewer teams have felt compelled to exceed the faux cap. In fact, if you want an interesting thought exercise, Google yourself “Yankees Go Over Tax Cap”. Different markets are having entirely different conversations folks, and it’ll get no more stark than reading even just the headlines you see come up from that search.

Point is, this isn’t a game that is going to hurt itself with fans and easily recover. And that leads me to question why you’d willingly charge toward it for next to nothing in concessions. I’m not even saying this to either side in particular, neither are exactly poised for some major concession in my mind. If anything, all they’re doing is guaranteeing the next one is bloodier yet.

Think about it, say this agreement is for 5 years. The players will come back with a slightly lower percentage of earnings to revenue, but top paid players will still be setting records. The chasm from top to bottom markets will expand a bit more. We’ll all repeat all the conversations we’re having right now.

Well, as we discussed, not all of us will be conversing about it.

It seems to me a professional sports league has XX responsibilities. Not players or owners, but a LEAGUE (Players & Owners) in a parenthetical hug.

  1. Every Team is on Equal Footing
  2. Players & Owners are Incentivised to Be Excellent Via Shared Goals
  3. Fans Grow Toward League Invested, Not Only Team Invested

When you can’t agree on anything, maybe sit down and instead of starting out with placating phrases like “the fans deserve…”, start out seeing if you can come up with a mission statement as simple as what I outlined there. Even if it means nothing in the end, sit there and build a perfect picture of your league, with no preconceptions. What would make it work to suit your mission statement.

Tackle the problem from a different angle and figure it out. Let math lead your decisions instead of emotions and guesstimates.

I don’t know how this is going to wrap up this time around, but I do know they’re actively deciding that some of you are worth losing in an effort to get it done.

Hope it’s worth it.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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