Late on Thursday evening as the Midwest was being pounded by ice and snow, word came out that despite telling the players association on Tuesday that they would return with a new offer, the owners of Major League Baseball changed their mind and decided that they actually weren’t going to come back with a new offer. Instead, as first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN, MLB has decided to ask for federal mediation between the two sides.
There are a few things to discuss about this. First is the big note that the mediation is just that – mediation. The mediator, if accepted by the players, can not implement anything. The mediator simply serves as a third party to try to be an unbiased person in the meetings, perhaps offer suggestions and to try and get the two sides moving towards one another.
While the owners are allowed to ask for said mediation, the players association does not have to accept. And according to multiple sources that seems unlikely to happen. As former Reds pitcher Alex Wood said – how can you ask for mediation when you haven’t even tried to negotiate?
How can MLB request for there to be a mediator from the Federal Government to help with negotiations when they literally haven’t even done any negotiating up to this point? Asking for a friend.
— Alex Wood (@Awood45) February 4, 2022
Why would the owners ask for a mediator? Well, there seems to be one very large and prevailing idea, and one smaller theory that this particular writer hopes to be true but doesn’t have much faith that it actually is.
The prevailing idea is actually pretty simple: The owners want the public to begin to blame the players for what is happening. If the owners can point to the players turning down a mediator they can and probably will be able to trick much of the casual population of fans into believing that it’s the players who weren’t and aren’t actually negotiating here. The casual fan isn’t following this online and listening to the actual negotiations – they just seem the very largest of talking points and this will be a big one.
What the asking for mediation also can do is, as Eugene Freedman notes, speeding up the process for Major League Baseball to declare that the parties are at an impasse, which would then open up a few more options.
1. Lock the players out.
2. Don't initiate talks for six weeks. SIX WEEKS.
3. Say you are frustrated at the lack of progress. https://t.co/DSjRGIAFGn
— Kevin Goldstein (@Kevin_Goldstein) February 3, 2022
To anyone that’s been paying attention it seems very clear who is at fault for the lack of progress. It’s the ownership side who has basically made almost no attempt to negotiate in good faith. They even opened up the negotiations by trying to tell the players that under no circumstances would they even consider altering earlier free agency or earlier arbitration. The very few proposals that have been made since they locked out the players – a move, by the way, that was in no way necessary and could be lifted by the owners at any point – have been laughable. One offer included a reward of a draft pick for a team if they didn’t purposefully hold a player back and manipulate their service time AND that player also turned out to be a stud (by winning the ROY Award, or finishing in the top 3 of the Cy Young or MVP race in one of their first three seasons).
As for the other theory that has been floated out there as to why MLB would ask for a federal mediator to step in…. it could be that there is a portion of owners who simply aren’t willing to make concessions that need to be made.
How often have you heard things like “Scott Boras won’t let Player XYZ sign an extension!”? Probably a lot. And every time I hear it I roll my eyes because Boras, and every other agent works for the player and not the other way around. Dan Halem and Rob Manfred work for the owners. They are negotiating based around what the owners have told them that they want to happen, not what Halem and Manfred specifically want to happen. It’s possible that they understand what they are proposing simply isn’t going to get it done, but their bosses (the owners) also don’t care because they just aren’t going to give in any further.
Is it likely that Halem and Manfred realize this and that is why they asked for a mediator to try and get some of the owners to move in the right direction and understand that they are being unreasonable? No, it’s not likely. But it is possible that is what is happening.
One final thing to add here that popped up as I was writing this was a graph from The Athletic that shows payroll, the luxury tax threshold, and estimated revenue over the last 20 years. Revenue growth is far outpacing payroll and the luxury tax growth.
This is a good visual representation of MLB estimated revenues via Forbes, the average Opening Day Payroll via the AP, and the CBT first tier. Graph pulled together by The Athletic. It tells the story: revenues vastly outpacing CBT and player salaries. pic.twitter.com/dxIwMZ4JeH
— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) February 4, 2022