The CBA impasse turns this into a Fed circus!

The Nats clubhouse in West Palm Beach is empty

We knew that the CBA negotiations that led to a lock-out imposed unilaterally by MLB owners could hit an impasse, and apparently it got to a point that baseball owners have now asked for federal mediators to step in according to Jeff Passan of ESPN.

Passan tweeted, “Major League Baseball today requested immediate assistance of a federal mediator to help resolve the sport’s lockout, sources told ESPN. Under their request, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service would help assist with the proceedings.”

Minutes later, Buster Olney of ESPN reminded everyone that the last time federal mediators got involved during a baseball “lock-out” was during the 1994 strike. It took seven months to come to an agreement at that time, and the World Series was cancelled that year. Seven months from today would put us roughly at September 4th.  No bueno, people.

Fans are agitated — and all of those fans who already scheduled trips to spring training camps are on edge as camps will almost definitely have delayed openings. In the end, this will have some type of residual damage to the game of baseball. History is recording this debacle.

We all know this all about money even though Max Scherzer, who is a union rep, said it was not about the money. Everything seemingly comes back to money. First year player salaries, arbitration pools of money, free agency, spending limits, revenue sharing, etc. We aren’t idiots.

“It is absolutely critical to (the players’ union) to have a highly competitive league,”  Scherzer said in December. “And when we don’t have that, we have issues.”

A “highly competitive league” is what the NFL strived for with parity and hard salary caps. MLB would love a hard cap which the player’s do not want. In fact, Scherzer now plays for the Mets, and he signed the richest single annual contract in baseball history at nearly $43.3 million for a team that has blown past last year’s CBT cap which means the Mets will get a slap on the wrist in penalties if the new CBA doesn’t change the current CBT structure. Of course the players, including Scherzer, don’t want a salary cap.

What baseball desperately needs is a spending floor for that “highly competitive league” so you have league parity. Leagues have to tried to limit tanking teams — and currently in the news is that some NFL teams, supposedly were incentivising personnel to lose games in a scheme to tank.

But as far as we know, there is no serious talk of a spending floor in these CBA negotiations in baseball. Things were so bad for baseball last year with tanking teams that the Baltimore Orioles only had FOUR active players making over $1 million, and their highest paid active player was Trey Mancini at $4.75 million. In comparison, the Nats had eight players they paid above Mancini’s salary last year. Is it any wonder that Peter Angelos’ team lost 110 games last year? The fans just stopped showing up to games.  Take out the COVID shortened season of 2020, and the Orioles have tanked their way to an average of 111 losses per year in 2018, 2019, and 2021.

The number one priority for both sides should have been to tackle competitiveness which keeps fans a reason to watch. The rest is just the typical greed on the money grab. In the end, all money is made on the backs of the fans and the general public who pay through tax incentives for stadiums built with public money, those who pay for sports channels they do not watch on cable, and the people who buy the products and services from companies that advertise baseball. That’s right, there is a trickle down economics at play here.

The math really is incredible that Scherzer’s record-breaking $43.3 million deal divided over 81 home games, and an average attendance of 30,531 in 2019 (the last fully attended season) means that he costs you $17.27 for every ticket purchased over the standard replacement player at league minimum. Of course in reality, other revenue sources will help pay Scherzer. Even Nats fans who bank at CitiBank are helping indirectly to pay Scherzer. CitiBank is the Mets’ stadium naming rights sponsor shelling out a reported $20 million a year for the rights to call the structure CitiField. That is the trickle down effect at work here.

Additionally, the league needs to find a way to more fairly compensate the younger non-arbitration eligible players so we don’t have to see a repeat of a Ronald Acuna Jr. situation where a player feels desperate enough to grab some cash in a bad deal long-term. This would allow these younger players to realize values closer to their market value in terms of what arbitration-eligible players would make. Another part that must change is the service time manipulation whereby the tanking teams holdback players like we saw notably with Kris Bryant eight years ago, and once again with Adly Rutschman, who is the Orioles’ top prospect as well as the top prospect in baseball. Fans would pay just to see him play.

Back to the discussion on mediation. Some from the union side think this is just a publicity ploy by commissioner Rob Manfred. Some scholars believe an independent mediator could only help in the process. As part of a 2014 article in Harvard Law School Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, by author Mark Grabowski, he says mediations generally work.  The American Bar Association said mediations end in an agreement of at least 70 percent of the time.

Grabowski wrote “Regardless of the outcome, mediation is arguably never a waste of time. By going through the process, if properly conducted, key issues could be identified that, in turn, could eventually lead to a resolution. The communication and open discussion of issues may also lead to a better working relationship.”

Let’s see how this all ends. Will that “highly competitive league” that Scherzer spoke of, emerge, or is this all about each side enriching themselves further on the backs of the paying public?



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