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Be skeptical of talk of a work stoppage

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There was a story last night from Ken Rosenthal about how, contrary to all of the recent talk of an uneventful collective bargaining season, there is the distinct possibility of the owners locking out the players come December 1.

With the acknowledgement that anything can happen in a negotiation and that the only people who are truly in the know are behind the closed doors of a conference room, I’m skeptical that there will be a work stoppage of any kind. And I suspect that this is merely an instance of saber-rattling as the sides approach a conclusion.

The reason I think this: the issue Rosenthal’s source says is the primary sticking point — the owners want an international draft and the players are pushing back hard — does not seem to present the sort of existential threat to either side such that they’d reasonably be willing to endure the costs of a work stoppage.

Yes, the owners want an international draft to contain costs, but they are not excessive costs as a opposed to annoying ones. Indeed, a moderately-priced free agent relief pitcher often costs a club more than their entire international signing budget does. Sure, they’d like those costs to be cheaper, but the owners have never portrayed them as a huge matter.

Yes, the players are reportedly — and admirably — taking a principled stand on the matter of the draft, but it seems odd that after several consecutive CBAs and mid-deal alterations to the CBA which sold out minor league players and international free agents with things like bonus pools and signing bonus slotting that the MLBPA now, suddenly, is willing to go to the mat for guys who, largely, will never become union members and those who do won’t for many, many years.

Contrast this with the last work stoppage, in 1994. There the owners wanted to impose a salary cap, which represented a radical departure from the status quo and which would have hurt every single major league player. Likewise, compare this with the last contentious negotiation, in 2002, which nearly led to a strike. Things were tense then, as the parties had been playing the season with the previous deal having already expired months ago. The issues on the table were likewise major ones: MLB wanted to contract at least two teams, drastically increase revenue sharing and the luxury tax, and implement PED testing which, at that time, had not been ever seriously discussed and, rather, was an early reaction to Jose Canseco saying he’d write a book.

The sense in both 1994 and 2002 was that the owners were lying, that they were not taking the union seriously, that the owners were fighting amongst themselves and that the negotiations were being conducted in bad faith. Compare this to the present where there is broad agreement on things like the luxury tax, revenue sharing and PED testing. Rather than the doomsday feeling that pervaded the CBA negotiations in previous times of hostility, the parties now openly talk of the great prosperity in the game.

Mostly, though, my belief that there will be no work stoppage is based on simple tactics and public relations considerations. Both sides are well aware of how poorly a work stoppage would play with the public and neither side wants to be seen as the party responsible for it. As such, if the international draft were a hill either side was truly willing to die on, they would have been casting it as such for months in the leadup to these negotiations. Either directly or via plants with sympathetic members of the press. Neither side has. Indeed, apart from people intimately familiar with the international market like Baseball America’s Ben Badler and lefty, pro-labor kooks like me, no one has been talking about it at all. If anyone was willing to lock out or walk out on this matter, it would’ve been signaled long ago.

What I suspect is happening is that the players are trying to extract a few more concessions for that international draft than the owners thought they would and that it’s making the owners cranky. They’ve had a pretty smooth relationship with Tony Clark and the MLBPA in recent years — too smooth, if you ask me — and I suspect they’re a bit shocked and somewhat annoyed that they’re actually getting some pushback. As a result, an owner or two was sent to the reporter with the highest profile in the business, Rosenthal, to rattle those sabers. Thus we get last night’s story. By the same token, it would not shock me at all if a reporter who is more plugged in to the agent/labor side of things has a competing story today from the union’s perspective.

The only thing that gives me a even a bit of pause with respect to all of this has more to do with historic parallel than it does the actual facts on the ground. It’s been a while since the owners and the union truly fought. As such, there is scant, fading institutional memory of the 1994 strike. Part of me wonders if, like European powers in 1914 who had not seen a major war on their soil in 40 years, they are approaching all of this as a bit of consequence-free folly, having either forgotten the pain of the past war or believing that they are far too smart and powerful now to do anything put painlessly prevail. I think Rob Manfred is smarter than any of those kaisers and kings, however, so this doesn’t seem likely, but then again I didn’t think we’d be talking about actual Nazis in 2016, and here we are.

That little bit of fear notwithstanding, I am pretty confident that this is all a bluff. So I say again, while anything could happen, I don’t think there will be a work stoppage. I think a deal will be reached by the December 1 CBA expiration date.

And if I’m wrong? Hey, things will be so horrible and dreary that you all will have way better things to do than shove this post in my face and tell me how wrong I was.

 

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”