JUPITER, Fla. — AAs Rob Manfred stood behind a podium in the left-field corner of Roger Dean Stadium and announced that opening day was canceled, a cluster of fans gathered outside the spring training home of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals.
They had something to say, too.
“We want baseball!” the group chanted at the MLB commissioner.
They won’t get it anytime soon.
With owners and players unable to agree on a labor contract to replace the collective bargaining agreement that expired Dec. 1, Manfred followed through with his threat and canceled the first two series for each of the 30 major league teams. The announcement Tuesday cut each club’s schedule from 162 games to likely 156 at most. A total of 91 games were erased.
“We’ve seen this coming in a sense,” free agent reliever Andrew Miller said. “It’s unfortunate. But this isn’t new to us. This is not shocking.”
More than pure numbers are a cause of the contention. Players are seething over their allegations of service-time manipulation and Major League Baseball’s increased number of rebuilding clubs, which the union calls tanking.
Issues such as the size and format of the postseason have become divisive.
“A core of this negotiation’s to increase competition and there’s no way we’re leaving the table without something that does that,” Miller said. “We’re not going to do anything to sacrifice this competition of the season. Anything that points towards mediocrity, that’s the antithesis of our game and what we’re about as players.”
The luxury tax may be the single most difficult issue. MLB proposed raising the tax threshold from $210 million to $220 million in each of the next three seasons, $224 million in 2025 and $230 million in 2026.
A higher threshold likely would lead to more spending by large-market teams such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.
“We have a payroll disparity problem,” Manfred said, “and to weaken the only mechanism in the agreement that’s designed to promote some semblance of competitive balance is just something that I don’t think the club group is prepared to do right now.”
Players are unhappy over how the tax system worked during the last labor contract, which included surtaxes to discourage high spending.
“We’re seeing it act as a salary cap,” Mets pitcher Max Scherzer said. “The San Diego Padres have the higher payroll than the New York Yankees.”
Players asked for a $238 million threshold this year, $244 million in 2023, $250 million in 2024, $256 million in 2025 and $263 million in 2026. The union aims higher to encourage teams to boost payrolls – and salaries.
Manfred vowed players will not receive salary or major league service for games missed, exacerbating already visceral anger of the roughly 1,200 players locked into a contest of will against 30 controlling owners. Manfred maintained daily that interleague play made rescheduling impossible.
“To say they won’t reschedule games if games are canceled or they won’t pay players for those games that are canceled is solely their position,” union negotiator Bruce Meyer said. “We would have a different position.”