On the heels of the MLB Players Association’s economics proposal this afternoon, Major League Baseball is preparing to make some form of counteroffer tomorrow. That’ll mark the first back-to-back negotiating sessions since the league instituted a lockout on December 2. Even as negotiations may finally be picking up steam, various reports characterized today’s meeting as contentious.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet adds some context to the continued tension, reporting (on Twitter) that the league expressed a willingness to accept the forfeiture of regular season games as the lockout drags on. MLB continues to maintain hope about reaching a new collective bargaining agreement on time to play a full schedule, but today’s session was the first at which owners outwardly maintained their willingness to lose games, according to Nicholson-Smith. Evan Drellich of the Athletic writes that some on the players’ side believed the league’s message amounted to a threat. For its part, MLB pushed back against that notion, with a league spokesman telling Drellich the league’s message was “mischaracterized and not a fair representation of the discussion.”
Even if MLB indeed suggested it was amenable to the possibility of losing games, that’d hardly be surprising. Admitting it’s unwilling to face the possibility of losing games would deal a blow to the league’s negotiating leverage, after all. As the scheduled start to the season gets closer, both MLB and the MLBPA are incentivized to overstate to one another their resolution to hold out for concessions from the other party.
It remains to be seen whether MLB’s alleged rhetoric proves to be anything more than a negotiating ploy. The league would stand to lose gate revenue for cancelation of games during Spring Training. More meaningfully, it’d face the loss of both gate and broadcast revenue for canceled regular season contests. A work stoppage carrying into the regular season, in particular, might also deal an incalculable blow to fan morale that could persist beyond eventual agreement on a new CBA.
In November, Commissioner Rob Manfred drew a distinction between an offseason work stoppage and one that ultimately results in game cancelations. “I can’t believe there’s a single fan in the world who doesn’t understand that an offseason lockout that moves the process forward is different than a labor dispute that costs games,” Manfred told reporters at the time, shortly before the lockout began.
Yet even if it’s an unsurprising tack, it’s at least somewhat notable MLB has seemingly taken the step of declaring their willingness to accept the financial consequences of losing games for the first time. Players are obviously facing financial pressures of their own. Players aren’t compensated for Spring Training, so their potential lost revenue doesn’t loom quite as imminent as that of owners. Canceled regular season games — and the forfeiture of salaries for those contests — would be a far more notable development. The MLBPA has set aside an undisclosed amount of funding for players in case a work stoppage lingers into the season, but there’s no doubt that’d prove far less lucrative than the salaries players would receive if gameplay were to proceed as scheduled.
The regular season is currently set to begin on March 31. It is generally expected that a new CBA would need to be in place by around the beginning of March in order for the regular season to begin on time. That’d leave around a month for teams to conduct their remaining offseason business and for players to report and build up during an abbreviated Spring Training period.