A look at the issues that led to the cancellation of the first week of the baseball season:
Q: Why did commissioner Rob Manfred cancel the two first two series of the regular season during Tuesday’s news conference? Isn’t it possible to negotiate and play at the same time?
A: Despite what Manfred may say otherwise, he didn’t have to start removing games off the schedule this week. This is all part of the owners’ labor strategy to gain leverage in these talks, one that began when Manfred locked out the players on Dec. 2, a move that has delayed spring training indefinitely and now will result in a shortened regular season, according to the commissioner. It’s also become a punitive action, as Manfred insists the games won’t be made up and players won’t be paid for them as a result.
Q: Is the Competitive Balance Tax the major holdup here?
A: Sort of. There are so many moving parts to a collective bargaining agreement, many of them interconnected, that you can’t really pin a deal on just one element. But the CBT is considered to have the greatest impact on the economics of the game as it was implemented in 1997 as a brake on "runaway spending" — Manfred’s term — since baseball, unlike the other major sports, does not have a salary cap. The owners push for stricter penalties, such has lower payroll thresholds and higher tax rates on overages, while the players want just the opposite. MLB’s last proposal included a threshold of $220 million for the first three years, followed by $224M and $230M. The players wanted $238 million, $244M, $250M, $256M and $263M, so the gap between the two positions is sizable.
Q: If the union is so adamant on getting players paid at a younger age, has there been any progress on that front?
A: When these CBA negotiations began, the union set out to lower the service-time requirements for both free agency (from six years to five) and salary arbitration (three to two). Those demands were eventually dropped, however, and the two sides instead created a pre-arbitration bonus pool and targeted minimum salaries. Of course, they remain far apart on the dollars. The union wants $85 million for the bonus pool, and minimums that go from $725,000 to $745,000 to $765,000 for the first three years. MLB has offered a $25 million bonus pool, with a minimum that starts at $675,000 and increases of $10,000 annually.
Q: Why are the owners and players arguing about expanded playoffs? Isn’t having more teams in the postseason better for everyone?
A: On the surface, it would seem that way. But the players insist that having more teams qualify for the playoffs lowers the bar, meaning clubs could spend less just to squeeze into October rather than try to invest for a legit championship contender. The owners reportedly had sold a 14-team package to ESPN for $100 million, but Manfred said Tuesday they had agreed to lower the number to 12, which the players had asked for. Expect this to be revisited in the discussions ahead.
Q: We know it’s all about the money. But will there be rule changes when players eventually get back on the field?
A: Fans of the universal DH can relax. That’s going to happen regardless. The rest remains up in the air. MLB slipped in a request to change the process for rule changes, asking to give the union only 45 days’ notice before implementing a change. The players didn’t like that. Currently, any changes must be approved by the union, or unilaterally installed by MLB a year in advance.
Q: These financial gymnastics are making me dizzy. Just tell me when baseball is going to be played again.
A: You may want to sit down for this. If a new CBA didn’t happen after both sides just spent nine consecutive days negotiating in Jupiter, Florida, with Opening Day hanging in the balance, what urgency is there now? It wasn’t great optics to have Manfred chuckling Tuesday while cancelling games and the players, along with union chief Tony Clark, sounded ready for a prolonged fight in their news conference afterward. April is the least lucrative month for owners, and they’re saving $20 million a day with each game that’s erased. Max Scherzer personally is losing $230,000 with every day there’s no baseball, but he’s been among the union’s biggest hawks, and the players are rallying around him. As we move forward, this is turning into a high stakes game of chicken, and it could all come down to which side blinks first.