The MLB lockout has been ongoing for nearly a month, with the accompanying transactions freeze halting essentially all major league activity. The league and the MLB Players Association aren’t expected to discuss the game’s core economics issues — the most contentious in collective bargaining — until sometime after the New Year.
A few prominent players — each of whom assumes an active role within the MLBPA — recently appeared on the Chris Rose Rotation (YouTube link via Jomboy Media) to discuss the current state of talks (or lack thereof). Yankees reliever Zack Britton, Rangers middle infielder Marcus Semien and White Sox starter Lucas Giolito all expressed some frustration with the lack of progress to date.
Not surprisingly, the players argued MLB has yet to seriously engage in negotiations. “We feel like we’ve offered some good proposals,” Britton said. “And really we didn’t get anything from their end in Dallas (in negotiations during the final few days of November).”
Semien and Giolito largely echoed that sentiment. The former pointed out that MLB could’ve continued to negotiate rather than locking the players out upon the expiration of the previous collective bargaining agreement. The latter plainly stated that the MLBPA was hoping to return to the table as soon as possible. “We’re here, we’re ready to negotiate,” Giolito told Rose. “We’re pretty much waiting on MLB. We’ve made our proposals, we’ve made multiple proposals right before they decided to lock us out. They said no, they weren’t interested at the time. … We’re not going to negotiate against ourselves. It takes two to tango.”
Of course, there’s been similar rhetoric on the part of MLB. At the time the league locked the players out, commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters that MLB “candidly … didn’t feel that sense of pressure on the other side” and added it was the league’s desire to “get back to the table as quickly as we can.” Very little has happened in the nearly four weeks since, although it’s not clear whether continued discussions on core economics would’ve done much regardless. Evan Drellich of the Athletic wrote a few weeks ago that December negotiations would have likely entailed the parties “saying the same things to each other over and over.”
The most pressing issues in talks — the competitive balance tax, the service time structure, salaries for early-career players, etc. — have been discussed ad nauseam in recent weeks. While speaking with Rose, each of Britton, Semien and Giolito argued that the union was more concerned than the league is with competitive balance. “We want every team to be trying to win year-in and year-out,” Britton said. “We think that’s fair to the fanbases and that’s what we want. We’re going to continue to send that message.” Giolito took a similar tack, alluding to clubs that have slashed their MLB payrolls during rebuilds. “We want thirty teams competing, trying to field the best possible players so that the game is more competitive. That’s kind of what we are stressing with our proposals: let’s make the game better for everybody, number one being the fans.”
Some lower-payroll clubs have of course managed to consistently remain successful in spite of budgetary limitations. Yet it’s clear that the players took issue with clubs that have largely chosen to sit out free agency while orchestrating massive organizational overhauls. Britton pointed to his former team, the Orioles, as one such club of concern, although he cautioned that the Baltimore franchise was merely one of a few examples of what the players feel to be a widespread problem.
Given the lack of movement to date, is it still possible for a new deal to be reached without games being interrupted? Semien expressed optimism on the union’s behalf about avoiding interruptions to Spring Training, although he unsurprisingly noted that “January is a huge month.” That said, all three players reiterated they didn’t feel any time pressure to meaningfully move off their current goals.
Britton and Giolito each pointed to last year’s pandemic freeze as a potential strengthening factor for the union. That wasn’t technically a work stoppage, as the game was paused due to national emergency. Yet the return-to-play discussions proved contentious, with the MLBPA eventually filing a grievance alleging that MLB didn’t negotiate in good faith to play as many games as possible last year during a season with essentially zero gate revenue.
“(Waiting it out) is part of the process right now,” Giolito said. “ Going through the pandemic year, kind of fighting for what we wanted as players, really coming together, communicating well, that puts us in a good position now. … Even if things are delayed a little bit, we’re here, we’re ready to negotiate. We’re going to keep pushing for getting a season going as soon as possible.“