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Why the union was right in rejecting owners’ “best and final” offer

And why there’s no justification for the league to cancel games

MLB: DEC 02 Major League Baseball Lockout Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With just over an hour to go before their self-imposed 5:00 p.m. deadline, the owners submitted their “best, final offer” for consideration by the union. This coming after an extension of the previous February 28th deadline and a marathon bargaining session that stretched into the wee hours of yesterday morning — one which appeared to signal traction toward a new deal (something we now know to be untrue).

Unsurprisingly, the players unanimously decided to reject the proposal. Minutes later, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that he would be canceling the first two series of the regular season. What’s more, he confirmed that the interleague schedule would prevent those games from being rescheduled, and that players would not be paid for the games the league is taking away.

The players were 100 percent correct to reject the offer. The raises in the minimum wage barely constitute cost-of-living increases. The Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold does not budge for the first three years of the deal, and then makes only incremental jumps that doesn’t even keep up with inflation to say nothing of being far outstripped by ballooning revenues.

If the CBT threshold kept pace with revenue growth, it would have stood at $297 million in 2019. To put that in perspective, the highest CBT threshold in the final year of the deal proposed by the union would still fall short of that by $34 million! Instead, Manfred confirmed that maintaining the status quo of percentage-based increases in CBT thresholds relative to previous deals was the goal. This isn’t about players being selfish, this is about being paid commensurate with the value provided on the field and in line with the revenue generated from said production.

More important is the wide gulf in proposals to compensate players earlier in their careers. The majority of players never reach the escalating salaries of arbitration let alone free agency. All of this coming at a time when teams lean on cost-controlled players more than ever. MLB’s minimum salary proposal would represent the lowest of any of the Big Four sports leagues, despite having the largest share of service time (over 50 percent!) taken up by players earning at or near the minimum. Put another way, in 2019, the average salary was over $4 million, but the median salary stood at $558,400 — half the league was making the minimum.

MLB may try to declare an impasse in negotiations, which would allow them to unilaterally implement their most recent offer (the one the players rejected yesterday). However, given the highly visible tactics employed by the owners, it is unlikely an NLRB arbitrator would rule that negotiations were conducted in good faith — a prerequisite for an impasse to be declared (to say nothing of the legal barriers blocking a declaration of impasse).

The owners instituted the lockout pedaling the fiction that it would jumpstart negotiations. They then waited 43 days before submitting their first proposal. They refused to submit counterproposals on multiple occasions. They sought a mediator as part of a PR stunt. They created an artificial deadline to pressure players and then canceled games with the threat of more to come. Issuing ultimatums and “final, best offers” is antithetical to good faith bargaining. Levying threats to gain leverage is a hallmark of anti-labor tactics.

The only thing preventing the cancelation of games is the owners. There is no precedent that says a deal must be reached a month before Opening Day or that games have to be canceled because a deal hasn’t been agreed. Canceling games is not a productive measure. It is neither legally nor logistically required. No, canceling games is punitive.

Opening Day could proceed as originally scheduled, with games being played under the terms of the expired CBA minus the CBT. Of course, the absence of the luxury tax would be a non-starter for owners, but there’s nothing stopping the agreement of a provisional CBT while the sides work in-season toward a new deal.

No, this was always about the owners exerting their control over the players. The only reason games are canceled is because owners unilaterally locked out the players to strong-arm them into making a new deal. The owners were afraid of the specter of a strike and decided their only recourse was to union-bust. Don’t believe me? Here’s a direct quote from Rob Manfred’s letter to the fans following his unilateral decision to cancel the first two series of the regular season:

We played without an agreement in 1994 and the players went on strike in August, forcing the cancellation of the World Series. It was a painful chapter in our game’s history. We cannot risk such an outcome again for our fans and our sport.

Make no mistake, it never had to come to this. MLB has the unilateral authority to lift the lockout. Games have been canceled because the league decided it must be so. They easily could have sat back down with the union after the latest proposal failed. Talks were progressing over the previous 48 hours as both sides inched toward a middle ground. Instead, Manfred and the owners chose to prematurely torch the first week of the regular season, and time will tell how much more damage they choose to inflict upon the game.