Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Someone Needs to Get Creative

I've been thinking and writing a lot about the ongoing negotiations between MLB and the Players. I'm not a fan of the way that either side has been negotiating, but I've been a lot harder on the owners for several reasons. I've been really turned off by their overall strategy going back to early May when this whole kerfuffle got underway. I detailed my suspicion that MLB purposely maneuvered us into this current space in my post last Friday. The gist of it is that I believe they wanted to have the negotiations drag along endlessly until we reached a place where the only possible resolution was a short season at full prorated pay.

The Commissioner has the power to set the length of the season, the only thing really stopping this right now is that the players would have to agree to the expended Playoffs that the owners want. If a few more weeks drift by in this current impasse, MLB could probably get the Players to agree to that by offering a large enough piece of the Playoff pie to them. The only real problem for MLB Club Owners is that the continued negative publicity over this ugly public fight masquerading as bargaining is likely to do a lot more damage to baseball's reputation with the public each week that goes by.

I've argued previously that it is very much more in the Club Owners' interests to get this resolved quickly and score some public goodwill from getting the game back on the field. Players have a short-term interest in all of this, primarily what they will make in 2020 and however much is left in their relatively short careers going forward. Most of these Owners are presumably in it for the long-term. They should be interested in doing whatever they can to keep the game on the field and public perception of the game as positive as possible. Instead, they seem to be only focused on short-term losses. I just can't understand why stewards of a multibillion dollar industry are allowing themselves to be so myopic.

As bad as the Owners have been, at times it's easy to overlook the failure of the Players Association to do anything more than to continually demand full prorated pay for however many games are played. I wrote a few days ago that, if I was a player, I would be seriously wondering whether Tony Clark was the right guy to lead this Union going forward. After by all accounts getting burned badly in the previous Basic Agreement negotiations, the MLBPA has shown an almost stunning lack of imagination in their proposals back to MLB.

Let's play a game. Tony Clark has been handed his walking papers and, after careful consideration, you have been selected to take his place. You take a hard look at what's been going on for the past month, and quickly realize that there is clearly no way that MLB is going to allow anything more than a very limited amount of regular season games at full prorated pay. Do you continue to insist on it, or do you attempt to be more creative?

Right now both sides seem to be negotiating for 2020 with an eye on the Basic Agreement that will be expiring after next season. As head of the union, would you ask MLB to make some concessions on the upcoming Basic Agreement for the payroll cuts that they are seeking for this season? Some items that might be discussed:
  • Eliminate draft pick compensation going forward. MLB offered this for the upcoming off-season in their latest proposal. The idea of penalizing a team for signing a top free agent always seemed out of place in a labor contract. The Luxury Tax has worked pretty well in keeping big market teams from going overboard with payroll, more so than fear of losing a draft pick.

  • Seek rules to stop the practice of tanking. Even some folks in management are starting to realize that rewarding teams that cut their payrolls to the bone with the express purpose of finishing at the bottom of the standings and getting higher draft picks is giving the game a huge black eye. Particularly troublesome are the teams that have done this over more than one season. Realistic minimum spending requirements on payroll would benefit both the players and the perception of competitiveness in the game.

  • Institute rules against manipulating service time. The best young players resent being treated in this manner, the fans hate having to wait to see them. It feels manipulative and petty.
Those are some ideas, I'm sure you as the new Union Head could come up with some of your own. The idea would be to get creative and stop insisting on a longer schedule with full prorated pay that you know you can't get. Or, conversely, you could follow the lead of your predecessor Tony Clark. Then you, too, can see negotiations grind to an unproductive halt, and soon we will be looking to find your replacement. The ball is in your court.

Back to the real world, where Tony Clark still holds onto his job, I wonder how much longer he clings to the full prorated pay mantra. I understand he is under pressure, answering not only to a large group of players who hold differing beliefs, but also to agents like Scott Boras who hold power commensurate to the number of players they represent. Still, the extraordinary times we live in demand creativity and vision from a leader. We're still waiting for Mr. Clark to demonstrate that he possesses those traits. Yeah, MLB has behaved quite badly throughout these negotiations, but that doesn't let Tony Clark off the hook if these talks fail to move forward.


Speaking of the Club Owners, their PR campaign pushes forward while these negotiations go nowhere. Since I started writing this post a couple of items have popped up in my news feed.

First we hear from Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who appeared on local St Louis sports radio to make the following claim:
"The industry isn't very profitable to be quite honest, and I think they understand that. But they think, you know, the owners are hiding profits, and you know there's been a little bit of a distrust there." 
This mirrors statements we heard from Cubs co-owner Tom Ricketts last week. We're to believe that club owners plow every nickel back into their clubs, and no one in the industry is stuffing any profits into their pockets. They really want us to take their word for it, even as they continue to obscure their finances from the players and the general public, even as franchise values soared into the billions.

Sure enough, Diamondbacks managing partner Ken Kendrick goes on local sports radio in his neck of the woods with the following lament:
Why is it that we are the only sport that doesn't have revenue sharing? All of the other major sports have revenue sharing... [MLB and the players] would be acting as partners to get back together and get back on the field. The very lack of a revenue-sharing model puts us in an adversarial position when we really ought to be partners and advancing the game and building the revenues because all would win in those circumstances... union leadership takes the position that's a non-starter. We wouldn't even be in a discussion right now if we had revenue sharing. It's sad.
I'm going to propose a hypothetical to you. You get offered an exiting new job. You get around to the part of the interview where compensation comes up. You ask about salary, and the company representative tells you, "It depends. You will be paid 1% of the company's total revenues after expenses." Your eyebrow arches up, and you ask, "How will I know how much money this company makes? Will I be able to look at the books to verify what I am told?"

The Company rep smiles warmly and reassuringly at you, while simultaneously shaking his head. "No, sorry," he replies, "we don't share that information. Don't worry, though, you can trust us." You smile back, getting up out of your seat and facing the exit. "No thanks," you reply, "I don't think I want to work for you under those terms."

As you head out the door the Company rep cries out, "But if you'll only trust us we can be partners! We can advance this company and build revenues together! Your lack of faith in us is giving me the sads."

You keep walking, because you understand if they force you to take their word for how much money the company is making, you're not really a partner. You're just a patsy.

That's it for me today. Thanks for stopping by. Stay well, be safe, take care. Hope to see you back soon.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos


  1. Well thought out, thanks for that. These things are very hard to officiate because everyone is lying to everyone and they are all bad equally to blame. I'm not for salary caps because i dont think anyone should be capped on what they can earn, ever. And that goes for the players and the owners. Anyone who tells you it's ok for the players and not for the owners should just go put their mask on and get back to burning things with ANTIFA and shut up. It's the same as the he phony politicians who tell you we "the people" should get financial stimulus but businesses shouldn't. They do that for 2 reasons; 1) they are playing to their low information voters who dont understand that without companies there are no jobs and, 2) because they want to be sure the money is thrown away and not invested. Any monies invested only slow down their goal of breaking the county to force more government.
    Without the owners there is no baseball and as we Met fans know all too well, MLB clubs dont make a lot of money anymore. Sure the numbers are huge but so is the risk and the margins are pretty thin, all things considered.

    We hear a lot about how MLB can get this great boost by getting games out there again and that's true. I dont think the virus is that big a deal myself, but I'm not the one who will be financially crushed if it does hit hard again. Neither are any of the players. But the owners could be. I dont particularly care about the owners but I do care about the league and if you bankrupt it then what?

    This is easy, that's the stupid part. You do the deal based on having fans and not having fans and start dividing it based on the estimates. Thats called revenue sharing. Now revenue sharing is normally key part of any salary cap and MLB doesnt have a cap. If it did the players would have a much better idea of what the owners make and without it the owners will say it's not the players right to know what they make and I agree with that as it's not anyone's business what a private company makes. But by agreeing that it's a one and done year and a revenue sharing is NOT going to continue next year, you can look at only this years income numbers and restart next year with a clean slate.

    As mentioned above the risk of a catastrophe is on the owners this year. But if they dont play this year everything the players have gained will be imperiled too. Salaries will be hurt in the long term as owners dig out from a full year of lost revenues whole still incurring significant non salary costs they pay regardless of actually having games. So in the short term the owners get killed, the players lose a season of an already short career and we start from zero next year, good luck with that. You could lose 2 seasons.

    I don't know how many franchises are in trouble but as Met fans we know the grifter Wilpons wont make it. I hate the Wilpons but I love my team so should I root against them and cut my nose off to spite my face? Sorry I'm not a neo communist who would trade his freedom for some faint promise if a better way that doesn't exist. There are no good guys here, each side would subjugate the other to say they got the better deal

  2. Some good points. A little less politics next time if you wouldn't mind. I disagree with some of what you wrote here politically, and I am not a low information voter. I just don't want to get into political debates on this blog. No one ever changes anyone else's mind, and it just turns ugly. Sports are my refuge from real life.

    Thanks for the comment


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