We’ve spent all winter — and last winter — talking about the problems on baseball’s labor landscape. About tanking and a lack of interest in competitiveness and the incentives and behaviors at work which have served to depress the free agent market, manipulate pre-arbitration service time, reduce salaries and give players a smaller piece of Major League Baseball’s increasingly bigger pie. It’s a state of affairs that has led to unhappy players, unhappy fans and a lot of critical words from the media. Present company included.
While all this is less than ideal, the fact of the matter is that little can be done about it without significant changes to the document that rules the entire world of baseball economics: the Collective Bargaining Agreement. That is not scheduled to expire until after the 2021 season. As such, it should be expected that we’ll have at least two more offseasons of this business before the sides sit down to discuss this in earnest. And, of course, we could very well get a tumultuous third offseason in which a lockout could occur if a deal is not reached.
Major League Baseball, however, is now suggesting that it’s willing to talk about all of that sooner. And that it may even be willing to negotiate a deal that extends the current CBA, albeit with significant changes. From the Associated Press:
Baseball players and management appear headed to early labor negotiations that could lead to significant economic changes in the collective bargaining agreement and possibly a new deal past the current expiration of December 2021 . . . Management told the union it would be willing to discuss larger economic issues as part of talks that could lead to a longer labor contract.
As we discussed earlier this week, the sides are already talking about on-field rules changes having to do with relief pitching and time between innings and structural changes to the injured list and the trade deadlines. Until this report there has been no suggestion that the parties have had an interest in discussing the core pocketbook issues.
And, it should be noted, this is merely a proposal by Major League Baseball to do so, not an agreement of both sides to talk about these things, let alone work toward a renegotiation of the CBA writ large.
There are a lot of reasons for Major League Baseball to both want to talk about these things in substance, but there are also a lot of reasons why it may merely want to appear to talk about these things in substance. It’s no secret that Rob Manfred is bristling at the bad press and the “negativity” he and the league are getting over the state of affairs this offseason. He would probably love a way to shut that down, and one way to do it is to be able to say “hey, we’re offering to talk to the union about it now, not in 2021!” There’s also the fact that, financially speaking, the current CBA is great for Major League Baseball, so what real, compelling incentive do they have to offer legitimate concessions to the players right now.
In light of all of that, it’s not at all clear to me if it’s in the MLBPA’s best interests to take Manfred up on this offer at the moment. Obviously, yes, some big changes need to be made, and if MLB is genuinely open to getting down to real work on this stuff, sure, you accept that invitation. But if there’s a sense that Manfred’s overture is not a good faith one with everything legitimately being on the table — as opposed to an effort aimed largely at stopping the criticism of the league by fans, players and the media — the union would likely not want to waste its time, or tip its hand, in what might be a futile negotiation.
Which means that we should probably take a wait and see approach here. Even if this is interesting.