MLB wants to reopen, possibly extend CBA

Doubleheaders seven innings
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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.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.