MLB deal still appears to be a long way off

So much for my optimism from last Sunday!

The latest round of talks between the MLB owners and MLB Players Association once again were not so much talks but two sides disagreeing with each other and then leaving. They are at least resolving various minor issues, but the core economic discussions are getting nowhere.

We’re now less than three weeks away from Spring Training games starting on time, which basically means Spring Training games are not going to be starting on time.

That’s another huge blow to the cities in Arizona and Florida for whom the Spring Training season amounts to a considerable chunk of their annual revenue. That’s the last thing local businesses in those areas needed after the considerable disruption suffered in each of the past two years.

The impact on the players is more up for debate. They are not paid during Spring Training, ridiculous as that is considering what a cash-cow this month of exhibition games is nowadays, so they will not be losing out financially as yet. Where they do lose out is in the ability to work with coaching staffs and getting themselves in prime condition for the regular season.

It’s an annual tradition that after the first week or so of being grateful to have some baseball back, everyone starts complaining about Spring Training being too long. Pitchers tend to be more amenable to it, as there is a need to gradually build up arm strength, yet even here in recent years we’ve increasingly seen starting pitchers doing minimal work early on in Spring Training games, or completely skipping them, in favour of doing bullpen sessions and simulated starts in a more controlled environment.

So I’m not convinced that delaying the start of Spring Training at all inevitably has an impact on when the regular season begins. Players can still be on their usual programmes, just not doing them at an MLB facility, and then pick up when the games do start. However, there will come a point at which completing a proper pre-season requires a delay to the regular season schedule. No indications have been given from either side as to when that would be, but I’d guess that they would want a good three weeks to get everyone together and then get 15 or so games in per team.

That means the clock continues to tick and us baseball fans continue to worry that the season will be affected.

Mediator Madness

The latest development involved the MLB owners seeking approval from the Union to get a federal mediator involved to break the deadlock. That might sound reasonable, but got short shrift from the Players Association and it’s not hard to see why.

MLB decided to lock-out the players at the earliest opportunity when the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement expired. Since that point, all of the reporting has suggested that the owners have done little in the way of negotiating to try to come to a deal. In effect, MLB has said ‘this is the best you’ll get from us’ and then sat twiddling their thumbs. That’s not bargaining in good faith, that’s bullying to get exactly what you want.

It’s also not obviously a way to speed things up. As the Players Association pointed out when they turned the offer down, introducing a third party to the mix and having to get them up to speed is only going to delay things further. It really was no offer at all from the MLB owners, just a PR exercise to make them look like being the reasonable party in contrast to the “greedy” players.

Which all leaves us nowhere, other than the previously-mentioned delay to what we expected to be another Fisher sale and our best players heading to other teams.

Remaining Hopeful

I did at least finally take the plunge and booked up plane tickets to New York for the A’s series against the Yankees. For the trip to involve more than sight-seeing will require things to be on schedule by the end of June, which sounds like a reasonable bet but still no guarantee.

Like so many other fans, after two years of Covid disruption the prospect of MLB shooting itself in the foot and not playing a full season seems maddeningly stupid. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been falling over himself for the past year telling everyone how tough the owners have had it during the pandemic.

We’ll learn something of the truth of that over the coming weeks and how ready the MLB owners are to not only cost themselves significant short-term revenue, but equally significant long-term reputational damage.

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