IRVING, Texas — Physically separated by 20 miles and philosophically a million, the baseball commissioner and his players’ union counterpart spent Day 1 of Major League Baseball’s exclusion of players ramping up their rhetoric, illustrating the significant divide which the sides must bridge before play returns.
Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark met within 90 minutes of each other Thursday morning, Manfred from the Texas Rangers’ shiny new stadium in Arlington and Clark at the Four Seasons Dallas in Las Colinas, the hotel where failed talks led to the ninth work stoppage in the game’s history and the first in 26 years.
Less than 12 hours after the lockout, the parties publicly laid out their positions in much more detail than they had previously revealed. Manfred called the lockout “not a good thing for the sport” and “bad for our business” but deemed it “necessary” in a letter he released minutes after MLB informed the MLBPA. Clark said “contrary to the statement that imposing a lockout would be helpful in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion, players view it as unnecessary and provocative.”
Thus began a work stoppage that senior sports officials expect to last for months. After Manfred, Clark and union negotiator Bruce Meyer first made key portions of the discussions public, it was clear why pessimism, at least in the short term, is warranted. They couldn’t even agree on what they disagreed on.
Both sides accused the other of fueling the lockout by not agreeing to a deal in Texas — or during the months of negotiations leading up to the last-ditch effort. Each detailed the other’s proposal, calling them “extreme” and “radical,” the pernicious kinds of words that seeped into public dialogue during last year’s controversial negotiations over season length amid the heart of the coronavirus pandemic. Until now, the parties had remained silent and eschewed incendiary language from scant public commentary, despite the brewing frustration behind the scenes.
On Thursday, it came out into the open, first with Manfred’s note and a 9:00 a.m. press conference at Globe Life Field, then with Clark and Meyer side by side at 10:30 a.m. to address some of Manfred’s claims point by point.
At the heart of the talks, or lack thereof, are core economic issues that have definitely tilted in the league’s favor over the past decade — and especially during the deal that expired at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. Revenues grew. Salaries not. And while the union wanted to make a profit, it identified a series of areas to do so: removing artificial restrictions on free choice, ending refueling, getting players paid more at a younger age and solving service time manipulation.
After the union’s latest proposal Tuesday, MLB approached Meyer with the request: Take some of the MLBPA requests off the table, including the potential reduction of time under team control for the free desk, the opportunity to earn additional days of service. and share any discussion of profit. The union refused. For three days here, the sides had talked for a little over three hours, culminating in a seven-minute session that ended without progress and epitomized the course of these negotiations.
Manfred said: “We made a proposal yesterday which, if accepted, I believe would have provided a fairly clear path to reaching an agreement.”
Clark said, “It would have been beneficial to the process if we had spent as much time in the room negotiating as we seemed to have spent on the letter.”
Aside from sick burns, the substance of the issues was laid out to the public on Thursday, helping to answer the question that puzzles those who don’t understand the cause of the lockout. The myriad issues under discussion, according to Manfred, Clark, Meyer, and other sources familiar with the negotiations:
Free agency: The union proposed allowing players to achieve free agency after six years of service or five years and age 29, whichever comes first. The competition remained steadfast: All but six years of service is a non-starter.
Competitive Balance Tax: The CBT or luxury tax threshold currently stands at $210 million and serves as an actual salary cap. The league offered to increase it to $214 million and scale it up to $220 million by the end of a new deal, though it would include tougher penalties for exceeding it. The union reduced its CBT request to $245 million in its most recent proposal.
Arbitration: The system that allows players with three to six years of service to negotiate their salary for the first time is a major point of contention. The union continues to request arbitration after a player’s second season. The league proposed a system that would completely replace arbitration and pay players on a formula basis.
Competitive Integrity: The competition offered a draft lottery for the first three picks. The Associated Press reported that the union was seeking an eight-team weighted lottery, and Meyer said the players’ proposal “offered to build in benefits for teams with a small market in design.”
Pay players sooner: The union called for a significant increase in the league’s minimum wage, which is currently $570,500. The league presented a higher bump than previous seasons, but did not come close to what the players were looking for. Furthermore, both sides are open to the idea of a bonus pool that can enrich players with zero to three years of service achieving certain incentives, be it All-Star appearances or MVP and Cy Young votes.
Extended playoffs: MLB proposed a 14-team plan. The union responded with a 12-team plan that would see each league regroup into an eight-team division and another seven-team division.
Revenue sharing: The union proposed the $100 million cut — almost certainly a no-start among the smaller-market teams enriched by the redistribution — so that larger-market teams would have more to spend on free agencies. While revenue-sharing has played a critical role in past agreements, the competition that sees it as a red line could lock it out of future discussions.
Service time manipulation: One of the trickiest issues is that the union wants players to be able to earn extra days of service – which go to the time accrued according to free agency – through performance. The league has consistently rejected the idea.
Salary cap: MLB recognizes that this is the union red line and has not suggested it. In an early proposal to the union, the league offered a $100 million salary cap — with a $180 million CBT threshold. The union rejected it, figuring that a hard shell naturally follows a hard floor.
Whether the public comments were a sign of things to come or a temporary expression of grievances should become clear in the coming weeks, when the parties are likely to meet again. The industry will already look very different, with no free agent signings, no transactions, and no MLB properties — including the television network and website — that use images of players. Some players on social media changed their profile pictures to the blank, default avatars that appeared next to their names on the team roster pages.
The response to the cleanup of MLB.com pages and Manfred’s letter — in which he called the ban’s implementation “defensive” — sparked immediate reactions on social media, where Manfred’s name was popular.
“I think there were some misrepresentations in the letter,” Clark said. “To be clear, and we have said this repeatedly, the league was not required to declare a lockout. The decision to impose a lockout was a conscious decision by the league.”
Manfred doubled down on the points made in the letter made at his press conference, calling the union’s faster path to free agency, cuts in revenue distribution and salary arbitrage after two years “bad for the sport, bad for the fans and bad for competitive balance.” “
“We already have teams in smaller markets that are struggling to compete,” he added. “Reducing the time they check players makes it even harder for them to compete. It’s good for fans in those markets too. The most negative reaction we have is when a player leaves through a free agency. We see “not making it available to make it more readily available as a positive. Taking $100 million away from teams that are already struggling to bring a competitive product to the field — I don’t see how that’s helpful.”
The counter-argument — the most positive reaction fans have is when a free agent joins the team they root for — came from a week when a $1.4 billion deluge in free-agent spending fueled the off-season. free desk as the ultimate right. Manfred’s competition balance talk was accompanied by a week in which union leader and right-hander Max Scherzer signed a contract to receive more by 2022 than the entire roster of Baltimore Orioles must be paid next year.
Each point will be parsed, parsed and taken apart from now on until a deal is struck. And amid the bad feelings about how this week went, Clark and Manfred came forward with a realistic view that goes beyond the rhetoric, beyond parrying and represents the truth of collective bargaining.
“I don’t feel frustrated,” Manfred said. “I am disappointed that we have not reached an agreement. That is different from being frustrated. I think we are in a process. I am willing to continue that process. And I am optimistic that we can reach an agreement.”
“Eventually a deal is made,” Clark said. “And the game and the industry are moving forward.”
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