Update: Jeff Passan is reporting that MLB and the union will meet this Thursday, less than halfway through the titular timeframe, and that the league will present its economic proposal. This is very good news because it is coming earlier than expected and should at least get the ball rolling on negotiations.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association plan to hold a bargaining session Thursday, sources tell ESPN. MLB is expected to make a core-economics proposal at the session, which would be the first between the sides since the league locked out the players on Dec. 2.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 11, 2022
The lockout has been in force for exactly six weeks now with nary a peep from either side, other than the occasional snipe here and there about how one group or the other is unwilling to talk. As a reminder, the owners proactively instituted this freeze the minute the old CBA expired. In any case, several reports have held that negotiations will resume toward the end of January even though nothing is currently scheduled.
That could be changing soon, as Bob Nightengale reported Sunday that the league is expected to present its core economics proposal “within the next two weeks.” While that probably means the proposal will actually come in late February, the report being accurate would mean opening up talks about three weeks before spring training report dates. That’s cutting it pretty close, but does the exhibition season present enough of a deadline to spur action?
As Evan Drellich wrote for The Athletic, “real movement might not come until more is at stake than simply an on-time start to spring training.” Jeff Passan of ESPN echoed that sentiment when he wrote that the “lack of urgency…is the cause for most concern” among those with direct knowledge of the situation. Passan goes on to lay out a path to a deal that would be amenable to both sides, complete with increased minimum salaries, universal DH, expanded playoffs, and other changes to commonly-discussed issues.
It all makes sense to outside observers, but neither vested party seems willing to cede any ground at all. The players are actually trying to fight to gain back some of the leverage they lost five years ago and then some, while the owners don’t want to surrender any of their share of the increasing profits the league has enjoyed over the past decade-plus. The disagreement seems to be less about individual tenets of the agreement and more about simply not wanting to lose.
As either Drellich or Passan wrote, it’s all too similar to American politics in which parties have become entrenched and now seem to choose a stance simply because it opposes the other side. Fun times, huh? All we can really hope for at this point is that both the league and union — mostly the league, because lockout — realize that those differences will have to be set aside before regular-season games are lost.
I tend to believe even missing more than a week of spring training — tickets for which are already on sale — would be very detrimental to MLB’s already shaky reputation, but stretching into April would be far worse. Great for Minor League Baseball, maybe, but disastrous for a league that bemoaned biblical losses in 2020 and that has done little to appeal to fans in new ways.
Of course, there remains the possibility that this has been a big game of chicken in which both sides are just trying to get the other to blink. The owners are particularly interested in flexing since that’s typically what billionaires like to do, and they almost certainly understand that a proposal like the one Passan presented would work perfectly well. It’s just that this is more about pride and emotion than pragmatism at this point.
Here’s to hoping that stance softens by the end of the month.