Sunday, June 14, 2020

When Money Is All That Matters

I enjoyed writing yesterday's post, because writing about prospects and the farm system is a fun subject to write about. As a writer, you're looking forward and anticipating something good happening. After missing my first day since I returned to blogging on Friday, I wanted to give myself a writing topic that gave me a good feeling. Now it's time to share some thoughts on the latest with the negotiations to get a season underway, and that just isn't as fun to write about.

As I'm sure that most of you know, after promising a proposal that would move MLB's position substantially toward the player position, MLB came out with one that was just a minor move from their previous offer. Not only did the Players turn down the offer, but they essentially threw up their hands and asked the Commissioner to implement whatever length schedule the League is comfortable paying full prorated salaries. As quoted by Joel Sherman in the Post, Tony Clark and the union aren't interested in further unproductive negotiations:
"It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile. It is time to get back to work. Tell us where and when."
This was disappointing to read, but it's hard to quibble with. Neither side has bent a great deal in their respective offers, but at least the players got a little creative with money deferrals and length of season. MLB's proposals - the ones they actually presented to the players - never differed all that much other than calling for an increasingly short regular season. The total amount of money going to the players remained fairly constant, with some changes in how it was distributed.

Essentially MLB kept demanding that the players, who are taking 100 percent of the physical risks involved with playing baseball during an ongoing pandemic, not only remain unpaid for any games not played, but absorb all of the losses involved from playing in empty stadiums. To top it off, the players were also asked to take on the financial risks of MLB failing to play their full slate of playoff games, receiving a lower percentage of prorated regular season pay if a COVID-19 resurgence cancelled the Playoffs.

Since this all came down, it's been interesting to read some of the opinions from the folks who cover the game. I've never found ESPN's Buster Olney to be someone who expresses harsh opinions on MLB and the Club Owners, but he was pretty tough on them in a piece posted this morning:
What we'll call the Jeff Luhnow mentality could be defined as the absolute devotion to gleaning every fragment of advantage, every bit of efficiency, regardless of whether you might drift beyond the bounds of common sense. The ends justify the means; just win the moment, baby.
It's as if Major League Baseball's leadership has embraced the Luhnow mindset in these tortuous labor negotiations, because the owners keep making these absurdly incremental offers at a time when the broader international context calls for decisive and bold action. With a resolution now at least three weeks too late, and counting, the industry is becoming a punchline for sports dysfunction... It's the Luhnow mindset as applied to labor relations.
Olney is quite tough on the owners here. He criticizes their recent appearances on local sports radio stations to whine about how unprofitable it is running a baseball franchise. I wrote about this last week. When MLB Commissioner Manfred started talking about their original revenue sharing proposal from a month ago - one that was never actually presented to the players - he insisted that it wasn't an attempt to make it easier to get revenue sharing and some sort of salary cap into the next contract. It's clear now that this is exactly what MLB and the Club Owners are seeking to do.

Tim Kurkjian, another ESPN writer who is not known for strong anti-owner sentiments, had this to say about the Club Owners yesterday:
Most of today's owners aren't in this for the love of the game, not like the family-run franchises in Milwaukee, Baltimore and Los Angeles 40, 50 years ago. These teams are merely commodities to the owners, the game isn't personal to them. It is certainly not intimate. Some franchises are indeed fragile at the moment, so much so that some owners believe they'd lose less money if there were no season, rather than 75 games at 100% prorated salaries. Some owners say they want baseball in 2020 because they have to say it.
Neither Olney or Kurkjian let the players off the hook for their failings. Everyone is guilty of doing most of their negotiating in the press, and that is always guaranteed not to work. What's becoming clear to me, however, is that the biggest danger to the game of baseball going forward is the Club Owners and their attitude towards their team and the overall game of baseball. As Kurkjian points out, they are not in it for the love of the game, to most it looks like owning a club is just a sign of status.

One change we've seen in businesses over the last few decades is a focus on short-term profits over what is best for the business in the long run. Dramatically overpaid CEOs emphasize keeping the stock price high to keep shareholders happy. Their position depends on short-term success. Employees are seen primarily as expenses rather than assets. Investing in the future is more of an afterthought. And now that same class of people are bringing that same mentality into baseball.

I'll be glad to see these negotiations end. They've been quite fruitless and irritating to watch. Let the season happen, whatever the length. If the players choose not to give MLB the expanded Playoffs the owners desire, I'll live without it, even if it winds up costing the Mets a playoff berth. It's going to be hard as a fan to get worked up over Playoffs based on a tiny fraction of a normal regular season, anyway.

Joel Sherman wants Rob Manfred and Tony Clark to at least meet in person and try to actually negotiate before throwing in the towel. You would think that they would have at least tried that by now, but it's clear that there never really was a sense of urgency on both sides to give and take and try to really get a deal done.

Watching all of this sends a chill up and down my spine when I think of the upcoming negotiations after the 2021 season. If they are unable to negotiate during an unprecedented national emergency, what are the odds that they work something out then? If the Club Owners are determined to force through revenue sharing and a salary cap we'll likely see a long strike. By the time the game comes back from that, it's likely to find itself a second-rate sport.


Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk made a point when discussing Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.'s appearance on local sports radio last week:
...never trust a baseball owner when they talk about profitability. If you doubt this, just remember what Blue Jays executive Paul Beeston once famously said: "I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss and get every national accounting firm to agree with me." If you think that’s not still happening, I have a Ballpark Village to sell you.
There are some fair-minded people who are willing to give Club Owners the benefit of the doubt when they cry poverty. It's important to keep in mind that it is very easy for the wealthy to hide assets and disguise profits. At FanGraphs last week, Ben Clemons demonstrated how easy it is to do. It's a really fascinating read if you have the interest. Clemens concluded:
...when owners say things like "we don't take any cash out" and "our investments aren't a great profit source," read those closely. Those statements sound like they mean, necessarily, that owners aren't getting any richer. They're not keeping anything for themselves! They're making bad investments! That simply isn't the case, however... Just remember - "making money" doesn't just mean putting zeroes on your bank account or hundos under your pillow. There are plenty of ways for the rich to get richer without resorting to cold, hard cash.
We've had a couple of generations now in this country where the extremely wealthy are used to having things tilted in their favor. This current group of Club Owners comes from that class, and I'd take any of their assertions with a lot more than a single grain of salt.


Just a quick personal note, if you don't mind. I'm currently dealing with an acute sciatica condition that's slowly getting better, but is far from over. Now I'm also back to working part-time, and that will eventually become full-time again. I'm not going to have the luxury of having all of the time I need to write whatever I want. Some days I will be unable to post, as happened Friday.

My plan going forward is to try as best as I can to keep posting every day while I am working part-time, although I may miss a day here and there. Once I'm back to full-time I will guarantee to post 3 times a week, most likely supplemented by shorter quick takes on other days. I might post more than once a day on days that I do that. I'll have to figure it out, but if you're a regular reader here I promise to keep you updated on any changes.

I will always announce new posts on Twitter. If you have an RSS reader you can subscribe to the site feed and be updated fairly quickly when anything goes up. There is also a box on the bottom of the left navigation bar (left menu on phones) to subscribe to email alerts when there is something new posted.

I promise, as long as I am physically able, to keep this site going and post as often as I can. Thank you for giving me some of your time today to share my thoughts with you. Please stay well, stay safe and take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos


  1. If you believe that the owners are now losing on each game than none of the rest matters. The players risk of getting to the stadium is probably higher than the risk of dying from this disease. In fact, the PED guys take a much bigger % risk.

    There are two sides and no good guys. MLB says they will lose $640,000 per game with no fans. They have costs in that money too and they probably over-estimate. So let's say its $500,000. 500,000 x 80 is 40 million. We know the Mets lose $50 million now. The TV revenue for regional networks like SNY should do well considering no one can go to the game and the that should increase their profits. But most teams dont own their network.

    You tell me. if the Mets lose $80 million as opposed to $50 million are they out of business? They might be.

    I've been watching this since Marvin Miller kicked the owners a$$ and got the players a fair deal after 80 years of an unfair deal. I dont get caught up in which side is right, because they are all liars trying to get the best deal possible, no matter the side they are on. When the two sides of Americas national pastime cant make a fair, honest deal during the turbulent times when we need them the most, it's never about one side being the problem, it's both sides that are the problem.

    1. The $640,00 was the number that MLB claimed as the average for all teams. They failed to provide documentation to back it up, and it's not taking into account the money the Wilpons make from SNY. I've presented a lot of financial information from different sources on this blog backing up why I don't trust the owners' numbers.

      My feelings aren't hurt if you don't agree with me, but I'm not making statements without trying to present information to back it up. I agree that both sides are at fault, but MLB and the owners draw a much larger share of the blame for how they have conducted themselves.

    2. I have no argument with anything you wrote, it's very well done. My point is that in this instance both sides are at fault, what % you assign to each is always debatable but the bottom line is the same, they both need to figure it out and play.

      The only thing that troubled me about the piece was the reference, which you correctly noted as an argument the players are using about the health risk of playing, is for me, BS. You are not wrong to report it, my take is thats it's a pretty sketchy argument considering the numbers. I bet these guys all order no touch delivery too, oblivious to the fact that the delivery person is "risking" his life for $10 per hour to get you that pizza. He does it because that's how he supports his family. These guys are holding the line on just what exactly they will risk to make a hell of a lot more than $10 per hour because they can already feed their families. Either way the real risk is being vastly overstated in order to be used as an argument. I dont care what anyone makes but in this instance with all the country is going through placing blame doesn't matter. Playing does. They need to figure it out.

    3. I always present as much evidence as I can when I'm making an argument, but you choose to insult me by calling it BS. I know people that were very sick from COVID-19 and one who died from it. Guess it doesn't feel like BS to me.

      Let's end this debate. I can accept that you have a different point of view. I'm very comfortable with what I wrote, and we can both move on. Life is too short

  2. I have to say this too. Asking for 100% of your salary when you know the team is going to have significant income issues without fans is a pretty strong stance. There is no give there?

    As fans we side with the players instinctively. Plus as Mets fans we hate the owner. I'm not rooting for them that's for sure. But let's not forget what I said originally, our team could destroyed by additional revenue losses. Are they going out of business? Probably not but we've been financially hamstrung since Madoff as it is. Maybe a bad agreement could lead to breaking up the team due to financial reasons. Again I'm not rooting for the owners but there is one truth here that never changes. The owners have the VAST majority of the risk. That is not debatable.

    1. Asking for prorated pay is not asking for 100% of pay. If they played half a schedule they would receive half their pay.

      I don't hate the Wilpons. Fred actually comes across as a decent man. I don't want them running the club any longer because they've done a terrible job.

      I don't believe the owners financial numbers for reasons I have carefully laid out in this and previous posts. Your statement that the owners have the vast majority of the risk and it is not debatable tells me that you're not interested in really having a debate. You clearly disagree with my point of view, and that's fine. My goal here is to make my point as strongly as I can, not to convert everyone who reads me to my point of view. I think we've reached a point that we're just arguing past each other. I appreciate your comments even though we are far apart in what we believe. I think we do both agree on loving baseball and the Mets. Can we agree to disagree on the rest and move on from this, please?


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