It’s expected that Major League Baseball will announce that spring training is being delayed as first reported by Mike Silverman of The Boston Globe. Rob Manfred has a press conference scheduled for Thursday after the owners meetings that are taking place this week. That is where he’s expected to make the announcement. One wonders if he’ll note that it’s only being delayed because the owners have chosen to lock the players out – something that they absolutely did not have to do.

Spring training was set to begin on February 16th, a week from today, with some teams starting a day or two later. With the owners having locked the players out until there’s a new collective bargaining agreement reached (or so it seems this will be the case – as noted above, the owners can lift the lockout whenever they want to), it seems unlikely that spring training will begin on time as the two sides remain very far apart on a few key elements.

Last week the owners tried to bring in an outside mediator. The players association declined and told the owners that they would gladly accept them returning to the negotiating table. Some players were a bit more loud about it, such as former Reds pitcher Alex Wood:

Most believe that the request for an outside mediator is both a way to try and spin this situation as “the players don’t want to negotiate” as well as a way to get MLB to an impasse. Eugene Freedman lays out many of the scenarios and reasons as to why it may have been requested and why it makes very little sense for the players to accept it from a legal standpoint.

Despite the owners wanting an outside mediator involved, and the players saying they welcome the ownership representatives to come back to the negotiating table, Major League Baseball has not scheduled another meeting with the players. It is possible that after the last meeting things didn’t move in the right or expected direction at all for ownership’s side and Dan Halem – MLB’s negotiator – and Rob Manfred felt they needed to wait until the owners meetings this week to discuss things in more detail with everyone. Of course, that wasn’t the case last Tuesday when their most recent meeting took place with the players and they told the MLBPA that on Thursday (of last week) they would propose a counteroffer. That never came, and instead MLB offered up the solution of an outside mediator getting involved. Update at 10:15pm on Wednesday – Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal is reporting that there will be a meeting between the two sides on Saturday.

But, as Joe Sheehan said this afternoon…..

On top of this, the lockout was instituted by MLB ownership to “speed up” negotiations, and then they went six entire weeks before making a proposal. The ownership group is not actually trying to negotiate. They are trying to bury the players.

As someone who is on record in multiple formats, I never thought that there would be actual regular season games lost. The amount of money at stake – particularly for the owners who cried about losing billions of dollars in 2020 (of course there’s absolutely no verification of this, and we know from the literal mouthpieces of teams that they can actually turn profits into losses on paper because accounting is a deceiving practice) – seemed to be the thing that would make this whole situation be settled before regular season games were lost.

There’s still time to get things done before that point. You have to figure that players need three weeks to get ready for the regular season. That would mean there’s about a month left for a deal to be agreed upon between the two sides, OR for the owners to simply lift the lockout before the threat of regular season games are lost. But at this point I’m starting to think about how much of a chucklehead I am for believing that the owners, who after what happened in 2020’s negotiations, would operate in good faith. Your mileage may vary.

36 Responses

  1. George M

    With all the money they can make especially with the new revenue stream from gambling sites the owners are literally choking the golden goose. It’s amazing how some people can have all the money in the world and yet want more.

  2. George Miller

    With all the money they can make especially with the new revenue stream from gambling sites the owners are literally choking the golden goose. It’s amazing how some people can have all the money in the world and yet want more.

  3. LDS

    The owners think they hold all the cards and couldn’t care less about the fans. Very short sighted in my opinion. Everything depends on fans. Perhaps ticket sales aren’t the majority of the revenue in the modern game. But everything that drives the big media contracts is ultimately fan driven. The corporate sponsors stick around only as long as the fans are buying their products, subscriptions, etc. Trying to win a PR battle against the players seems to me to be a fool’s errand.

  4. ClevelandRedsFan

    Can the owners lift the lockout without a new CBA in place? If so, do the previous terms go into effect and negotiations continue?

    Or is a new CBA needed to start spring training?

    • Luke J

      What Doug doesn’t bother to mention is that if the season rolled around without a new CBA and the owners lift the lockout, the players would 100% refuse to play under the old CBA and would strike. It’s completely disingenuous to assert the owners lifting the lockout would have anything to do with games starting on time.

      And while I’m at it, it’s also a joke for people to assume that because the owners don’t want to make a bunch of concessions that they aren’t negotiating in good faith. The sport has operated for many many years under the current structure. The owners don’t want that to change. The players are calling for radical changes to that structure. To think that “good faith” means a willingness to meet the radical changes in the middle is simply wrong. They can reject the players’ radical changes outright and do so in good faith. I hate this mindset that unless you bend to someone else’s desires or do what they think you should do you are the bad guy.

      • CFD3000

        Luke I’ll have to disagree with you here. You’re implying that because nothing has changed since the previous CBA was negotiated that the players expecting significant changes to their agreement, and a bigger slice of the baseball pie is radical. But things HAVE changes. The owners are making a lot more money – both in yearly revenue and in ownership equity. I don’t think the players asking to share in that additional success is somehow radical. We can respectfully argue over what constitutes a fair distribution, but to suggest that nothing significant needs to change makes me wonder which team you own a slice of.

  5. Old Big Ed

    The owners need 23 of the 30 teams to agree on a new contract. My guess is that Manfred and his negotiators can’t get enough owners united on a strategy that goes beyond “No.” The current system pretty much works for the owners now. Every team can cash-flow, even if the revenue-sharing rules effectively encourage some teams (like the Reds, frankly) to be fairly good, but not to spend enough to be true championship contenders.

    The players apparently believe that Robert Nutting (Pirates) and Arte Moreno (Angels) are driving the negotiating bus, but who knows if that is true. The only similarity between the two teams is a penchant for poor business decisions. The Pirates make lousy trade (Glasnow, etc. to the Rays) and don’t really try to generate any local revenue. The Angels spend a lot of top-end money on guys like Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton and Anthony Rendon, then put together a half-hearted pitching staff, which apparently (and unfortunately) includes drug abusers. Year after Year after Year. This group of owners pretty much want the players to save the owners from themselves.

    I would also guess that most ownership groups at least understand the players’ point that they need to get paid more at an earlier point in their careers, given that most owners (although not Arte Moreno) have finally caught on that it is bad business to agree to big-money long-term contracts to players over 30. The question is whether the owners have 23 votes for a proposal that accommodates the players’ concerns.

    I highly doubt that the truly large-revenue teams like the Mets, Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers want to lose any regular season games. Yeah, they would prefer as favorable terms as they can get, but the only thing that will keep them from earning a great return on their investment is the PR disaster of a loss of a season or a substantial part of a season.

    So, I think the immediate problem is that the owners are not really on the same page with each other. Sooner or later, it will start to leak who the holdouts are, and we’ll see if they can take the heat.

    • Jim Walker

      I agree with your theory there are contingents among the ownership; and, the ones comprising the just say no group are gumming the works. I suspect there may be a greater chasm among the various owner contingents than between the players and perhaps even a simple majority of the owners.

  6. Mark Moore

    Same old same old from where I sit. And I’m really sliding to the players’ side at this point. I think the owners do believe they hold all the cards. But that’s not quite correct. MLB’s popularity is going to take a beating here. And the younger fans may not come back once the dust finally settles. That leaves us old farts … and we’ve seen this show a couple times before.

    • RedsFanInFL

      The young fans have already left (or never came on board to begin with). I never see kids playing baseball or even just catch during the spring or summer. I can’t get my 2 young boys to sit and watch more than an inning on TV because there is so little action. How do you build a new young fan base when post season (WS) games end past midnight and so most kids on the eastern time zone are not up to see the ending

      • Mark Moore

        True that. Baseball is still pretty big near me. But you make some solid points.

  7. Old-school

    I dont have a dog in the fight other than I want the Reds to fast forward their youth movement and get these young players in GABP ASAP. I dont see how anyone can say Bob Castellini didnt lose money in 2020 and 2021 when there were no fans in 2020 with a complete shutdown of society and a 60 game season and then only partial fans with a fraction of game day revenue for significant chunks of the 2021 season.

    The players have guaranteed contracts and accept no risk for personal performance or injury. The players also took no risk in 2021 for the pandemic with partial attendance. It was absorbed completely by the owners. The players got 162 games worth of salary as if everything was normal. The owners are going to make them pay for that.

    ITs ironic Alex Wood is publicly whining about how bad the players have it. This is the guy who got paid $9.65 million in 2019 by the Reds and barely played. He started 7 games and went 1-3 with an ERA of 5.80 and gave up 11 home runs in 35 innings. He still collected his $9.65 million. Does Alex Wood actually believe he’s got it so awful? Most rank and file folks would love to take a year off for a bad back and still get their entire salary and benefits.

  8. Tom Reeves

    It’s the same story.

    The players what to be paid massive sum for their potential. The owners what to pay players who produce results and put butts in the seats (live and virtually). The fans want to see winning baseball.

    Franky, I’ve always thought the biggest issue in baseball is that in baseball, the big salaries keep the low salaries lower. Big long contracts carry way too much risk of injury or decline in pay.

    If I were the players association, I’d focus on a pay for performance program players under real control where, I’d you play well, you get paid well. And if you are barely making it in the Bigs, you get paid well enough to make the minor leagues worth it. I’d focus on getting more players more money rather than a few players astronomical amounts of money.

    • CFD3000

      This issue is scarcely on the table but I do agree with you Tom that baseball players should be paid more for actual performance and less for past performance. Fully guaranteed contracts and massive high dollar contracts for veterans create some strange incentives. I’d love to see much higher minimum salaries, and many more incentive based contracts with performance bonuses. Guaranteed contracts is a tricky problem when you account for injuries so you’d have to include a guaranteed base. Large / long contracts from smaller budget teams can really hamstring a team’s ability to compete when the veteran getting paid to not perform still has years to go on a guaranteed contract. Think Mike Moustakas right now. If those contracts were 1/3 guaranteed base and 2/3 performance based that problem disappears. The players will never unring that bell, but for me the incentives for how players get paid are really backwards.

      • greenmtred

        Isn’t it generally–or at least often–the case in many businesses that people get paid based upon their experience, ie, past performance?

      • CFD3000

        Green Mountain – you’re not wrong. But I’d offer three observations on that. First, even in business if you’re clearly underperforming or just can’t work you won’t usually last very long. And I’d say that long term guaranteed contracts are not the norm. Second, especially in sports (though admittedly more in individual sports than team sports) you absolutely get paid for performance. Golfers and tennis players come to mind. And third, there are plenty of people – me included – who get paid purely on performance. I’m a self-employed consulting engineer and if I don’t work I don’t get paid. Good news is I get as much unpaid vacation as I want! So perhaps I’m a little biased but I’d like to see a much larger “pay for performance” aspect in MLB after the first couple of years, with moderate guaranteed salaries and substantial performance incentives.

  9. BK

    “… particularly for the owners who cried about losing billions of dollars in 2020 (of course there’s absolutely no verification of this, and we know from the literal mouthpieces of teams that they can actually turn profits into losses on paper because accounting is a deceiving practice) – seemed to be the thing that would make this whole situation be settled before regular season games were lost.”

    Just a quick follow-up … Forbes reports the operating income for each team annually. They reported MLB teams collectively had an operating loss of $1.8 billion. Operating income is an entity’s earnings before interest expense, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Forbes also reported the teams collectively had $6.6 billion in debt. The publicly owned Braves paid an effective rate of 5.5% in interest in 2020. At 5.5%, MLB teams would have paid another $366 million in interest. ALL business can depreciate and amortize certain items. This in effects allows them to reduce income tax. It does not prevent them from paying property tax, sales tax, employer portions of FICA, state or local taxes.

    The article Doug links above is a good read although unless you really enjoy taxes/balance sheets it’s a little nerdy. In summary, it outlines provisions in the tax laws that allow sports franchises to reduce their taxes through depreciation. As the author points out, depreciation lowers the cost bases of the franchise and will result in a larger tax bill when the franchise is sold. In effect, it’s an interest free loan until the franchise is sold. It does not change the fact that teams lost money in 2020 and that those losses are apparent and sizeable.

    • Tom Reeves

      Thank you BK

      I’m always amazed at how we expects the owners to make poor fiscal decisions so we can be entertained.

      And people say that if Castellini doesn’t have enough money to float the club, he shouldn’t own the team. But they fail to consider who might have the resources to buy the team. Cincinnati isn’t chocked full of loyal billionaires. A future buyer of the team may have zero connection to the city and/or the club. At least Castellini seems to care about the city and helping people. He’s created a wonderful fan experience. And I’m willing to give the club some time to get this financial mess figured out in a way that sustains the club for a long time.

      • BK

        Like everyone, I would simply like both sides to work it out, start spring training and play ball as scheduled. The idea that this disagreement is caused by one-side is simply naive–MLB’s CBA is quite complex with multiple aspects that can affect various owners differently and various players differently. From where I sit, neither side is close to their best and final offer–an outside mediator may have proved helpful in clarifying that point. While the other major U.S. sports have largely found common ground, MLB stands alone with a framework that pits both sides against one another.

      • greenmtred

        The business model for baseball is entirely about entertaining the fans. If the owners have lost their sense of this, they should find other hobbies.

      • Alex

        Owning a team is supposed to be a poor fiscal decision. Fans aren’t here to line the pockets of a trust fund baby who inherited a fruit company and a tax payer funded stadium. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I have a new respect for George Steinbrenner. Just glad we have a spreadsheet MBA brigade to break open the excel macros and the tiny violins for a bunch of whiny old white rich guys, who, let’s face it, would rather lower the playoff threshold to appear competitive, than actually be competitive.

    • Old Big Ed

      BK, you are not allowed on this site to understand finance. “Depreciation?? Pfft — an accounting gimmick!!”

      Or negotiations. You are correct that both neither side has made close to their best offer. There is a broad area of common ground to reach, but the guys doing the negotiations don’t seem to be very adept at finding that common ground and are thus hurdling toward lose-lose. They probably do need a mediator as WD-40, just to get them talking constructively. (And the mediator does likely need access to the dissenting owners, too.)

      They are ultimately going to reach an agreement that will cause everybody to ask “Why couldn’t you have reached this agreement in two days of negotiation in November?”

  10. Frankie Tomatoes

    I would really like to see talks move in a positive direction. The players are not asking for a lot given where revenues have continued to go since the last CBA was reached. Spring training losing time isn’t that big of a deal for the Reds compared to some other teams. They will lose money because they bring in ticket sales for games where they don’t have to pay players. And they will lose money from having to pay back for televised games they can’t produce but the Reds are always one of the teams that show the fewest spring games so most other teams will have to pay back more of that tv money than the Reds will.

    Figure it out. I need baseball in April.

  11. David

    I think at this point, a third of the season will be lost.

    And a lot of residual fan “good will”. As I recall, the 1994 season ended prematurely because of a Player’s Strike. This bad feeling lasted for years. The 1995 Playoffs in Cincinnati were not “sellouts”, because a lot of people were still sore about the strike.

    Where the blame falls for this is more on the owners than the players. The owners HAVE to study what is going on in the NBA and NFL. Sure, MLB has some very significant differences in operation (ie, farm teams, etc) and a much longer season.
    But revenue sharing, salary caps and salary floors have made the NFL, in particular, much more competitive. I can see where the rich franchises in baseball do not want revenue sharing, or “salary caps”, and I can also see why the Player’s Association would be opposed to salary caps, but without some kind of structural financial “leveling” of the game, a handful of teams will ALWAYS be in the playoffs, and a larger group of teams will never really be competitive.
    I have a pretty low regard for Rob Manfred as Commissioner of Baseball, and he is, after all, the owner’s employee. I have no insight into what is going on with either the owners or Player’s Association, but they are going to ruin the image of the game with the fans if this keeps up much longer.

    • BK

      You make a lot of great points, but it’s actually the MLBPA that has long opposed a system where the players get a fixed share of revenues and the accompanying salary cap that would come with it.

      • David

        Yes, I know they do. Because this would preclude the huge paydays that a handful of superstars get.
        I think you, in particular, know the issues and the standing on these regarding the MLBPA and the Ownership group a lot better than I do.
        But without some form of leveling (which the very rich players and agents would naturally oppose), we will be condemned to every really good/great player ending up with the Dodgers, Angels, Yankees, Mets, Bosox, etc. , that seem to have the deepest pockets.
        Some players and teams have shown some loyalty to their best players, but witness the Cubs, who DO have money, but showed pretty much all their “stars” the exit.
        Free agency changed the game profoundly, and nothing is going to put the toothpaste back in the tube, but what has happened since then has all been a slew of half-measures to put a bandaid on broken leg and call it fixed. No draft pick compensation for free agents is going to hurt the small market teams even more. And it will create an urgency to trade away players once they get close to their Free agency, if their team does not have the resources to sign them to a long contract.
        I have no idea what the right formula is, and maybe now, with the looming cancellation of Spring Training games beginning, both sides will get down to making another half-baked agreement.
        Baseball is literally killing itself with the lack of foresight by both sides.

      • BK

        David, you probably understand all of this very well. I’m just a nerd who enjoys reading balance sheets and annual reports.

      • TR

        I enjoyed the comment by David. Both sides are killing the golden goose with these too frequent stoppages. A winter, for an old guy like myself, with little to no ‘hot stove league’ baseball talk means, to me, baseball will be losing fans to other pro sports. What a dull winter; thank goodness for the Burrow Bengals. Baseball, management and players, better think twice and not forget their fans.

  12. BK

    Per Manfred, Owners have agreed to a universal DH and eliminating draft pick compensation tied to departing free agents. MLB has not changed the Spring Training schedule … yet. Owners will present a new proposal to players, tomorrow.

  13. Votto4life

    No draft pick compensation for teams losing free agents. Sounds like the league is no longer committed to competitive balance.

    • BK

      MLBPA believes (and I think the evidence supports their view) that teams tend shy away from signing a free agent that will require them to surrender a draft pick (or perhaps reduce their offer by an amount equal to the value of the pick). I believe the team losing the free agent will still receive compensation, but it’s important to keep in mind, any aspect of the “agreement” is subject to change until it’s final and signed.