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MLB Season Delayed, Games Canceled. What Now?

My thoughts on what the heck just happened, the owners and players, and for some reason, pickleball.

We had one night of optimism.

One wild night of refreshing Twitter, laughing, carousing, carrying on. Derrick Goold was drawing comics. Bards were composing songs about Bob Nightengale. Everyone was yelling at each other over expanded playoffs all while celebrating the hope that baseball would return.

And then the owners remembered they were owners.

And the players remembered they were players.

And both sides remembered they hate each other.

Come Tuesday afternoon, all our hopes and dreams were doused with the cold reality that is baseball labor negotiations.

As of 3:37 Tuesday afternoon, the players had unanimously rejected the “last and final” proposal by the owners. They were packing up shop to head back home. There is no word on when or if the two sides will get together for future negotiation sessions.

And the games? Not long after word came down that the players had rejected MLB’s offer, commissioner Rob Manfred announced that games would indeed be canceled.

What now? My suggestion is to buckle in for the long haul.

If a week straight of back-and-forths and face-to-faces in the Cardinals’ and Marlins’ facilities with a (completely arbitrary) deadline couldn’t entice either side to a deal to save a 162-game season, I don’t know how that will change any time soon.

Instead, both sides seemed determined to compromise just enough to look good before a federal judge whenever the inevitable “bad faith” negotiating lawsuit hits the dockets. I’ll let VEB’s resident legal expert handle those issues. For now, here’s where things stand with the owner’s final offer:

There are lots more details buried within the offers. But, frankly, it doesn’t seem like you all care to read about them and I certainly don’t care to write about them.

In the end, it seems like the threat of lost games before games were actually lost seems to have been motivation enough for both sides to move in the general direction of each other but not to give up enough ground that it looks like they “lost” in the deal.

This is particularly bad for the players union, who entered this CBA negotiation process hoping to regain a little of the ground that they had lost in previous years.

Let’s face it, the last few CBAs have been bad for the players. They are receiving a dwindling percentage of MLB’s revenue. Average salaries have been at best stagnant and dropping since COVID. That’s not even factoring in inflation. (Which should be factored in.)

The owners have maintained an iron grip on payroll and most of them have accepted the luxury tax – or CBT, competitive balance tax – as a defacto salary cap.

With an artificial cap in place PLUS expansive revenue sharing PLUS no payroll minimum PLUS massive increases in national and regional TV contracts PLUS a system that rewards losing on purpose and building through draft and development, the owners simply had no incentive to make an effort to raise player salaries.

The Cardinals have become kings among princes in this regard. Why sign a veteran utility player? A solid starting outfielder? A closer? That’s what the farm system is for! The draft provides (eventually).

Oh sure, occasionally you’ll need to go grab a piece the organization can’t develop, but then you can undercut the market by signing Steven Matz to a discounted deal instead of a Marcus Stroman. Or head overseas for cheap, scoutable talent – like Kwang Hyun Kim or Miles Mikolas.

Yes, the team took on Nolan Arenado’s contract. They gave an extension to Paul Goldschmidt. They’re highly competitive and legitimately one of the better teams in the NL.

But their payroll commitment for 2022 Opening Day is around $145M. That’s the same Opening Day total as 2016. It should be around $170M, had payroll trends continued from before COVID.

This is a playing environment that the MLBPA agreed to, perhaps not fully recognizing the ramifications of their acceptance. Or, perhaps knowing while not being able to do anything about it.

That’s been my takeaway through this entire process. What do the players have to challenge the owners and make them give up their iron-clad financial power?

They have almost nothing.

Yes, this year they did have expanded playoffs as their lone bargaining chip — and one worth a significant dollar amount to the owners. The PA played that card well, holding the owners to a 12-team playoff pool while wringing minor concessions out of them. Like keeping the percent penalty for exceeding the luxury tax about the same as the last CBA (MLB wanted to raise the penalties), a universal DH, and the development of a bonus pool for pre-arbitration players.

But that’s just simple math for the owners and their accountants. How much are expanded playoffs worth? The answer is $XXXM.

OK. The owners were willing to make $XXXM worth of concessions to balance out expanded playoffs. Why would they give up more? Just to be nice to the players?

That’s where I end today. Fully aware that the owners have all the power. That the players continue to get undercut in their value relative to the rest of the league. And still there is almost nothing anyone can do about it.

Oh, sure, the owners employ PR firms. And they’re saying the right things. For example:

The concerns of the fans are at the very top of our consideration list? You mean… Bill DeWitt cares about me? (Heart-eyes emoji!)

I think not.

I care about games. And my concern is that games are played. And I don’t care how much the owners make and/or don’t make while they play them.

I love this Tweet from Brendan Schaeffer, Cardinals writer at KMOV, which came well before Manfred’s statement of concern but is still highly relevant to how much MLB played us fans. And the media. And the players themselves.

Remember that.

In the end, the owners locked out the players.

The owners did not negotiate with the players for months.

The owners set an arbitrary deadline for games to be canceled.

The owners made a “final and last” offer that was miles away from “meet me in the middle”.

The owners leaked momentum and hope in the 11th hour so that they could force the players to reject a low-ball offer and look like it’s all their fault.

We could have spring training going on and games on the schedule if MLB had chosen not to do those things. The law permits companies to continue to work under the conditions of their previous agreement when that agreement has expired. That’s what is supposed to happen to avoid situations exactly like this one.

Yes, you read that correctly. The only thing keeping MLB from playing games is MLB itself. No one else. I keep hearing that same thing over and over from the lawyers who know these things.

Ok, enough of that. It’s all either of us can stomach. What now?

Might I suggest that you, like Rob Manfred, get to work on your golf game?

Looks like a slice off the tee to me, Rob.

I had a friend text me a bit ago and invite me to go play pickleball with him. Sounds like fun. Little does he know I plan to develop my own proprietary advanced pickleball statistics. You’ve heard of Baseball Prospectus’ WARP? Well, it’s now “Wins Above Replacement Pickleballer”. I suspect I will be below.

(To do it right, I need to get one of those Statcast systems installed in my local pickleball park. If I’m going to play, I’ve gotta know my exit velocity, launch angle, and my barrel %. Hmmm… shouldn’t that be paddle percentage? Yes, I think so!)

Oh, and if you want baseball to fill the gap in your baseball, there’s also minor league ball! You can get a MiLB.TV subscription for pretty cheap and then watch future major leaguers play to your heart’s content! Yes, they’re underpaid and oppressed by their MLB owner overlords, but at least they do it all for the “love of the game”. And peanut butter sandwiches and an orange wedge in the post-game spread.

That’s what I plan to do. I suspect, if this lockout labor war thing goes on long enough, most of my articles will start to trend in that direction. Or I can double-down on indulgent comedy.

Oh, and even as I write this more news is coming down:

That’s two road series against the Pirates and the Cubs. Easy wins down the drain. Thx Rob!

I’ll update the rest of this article as information breaks. I’ll do it Scooter style and just drop in important (and humorous) tweets.

Sorry, baseball fans. Like you, I’m sad. A bit heartbroken. Disappointed. Dejected. Angered.

And I’m about to be bored. As everyone’s favorite optimist, I promise to do what I can around here to keep you coming back and entertained as much as possible. Hang in there.

Here are some post-publishing Tweets that are worth highlighting:

Jack Flaherty liked this Tweet and it’s worth posting:

A statement from the Cardinals about the lockout: