Last week, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred canceled the first two regular-season series after owners and the MLB Players Association failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement by the deadline. imposed by the league. The two teams met on Sunday and the MLBPA made a new proposal, but a deal doesn’t seem imminent and more regular-season games could be canceled this week. At a minimum, this marks the first time in league history that the schedule will be compromised by an owner-implemented lockdown.
When CBS Sports explained the reasons why no deal was reached, one guideline was how the owners created leverage against the players. They instituted the lockout as soon as they could to rule out the possibility of a strike. They waited more than six weeks to make their first proposal to create impatience. They created deadlines to force an artificial sense of urgency. They even, in the eyes of the players, orchestrated a disinformation campaign in an attempt to gain last-minute PR points.
Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox and a veteran of labor disputes, once said, “A shrewd negotiator creates leverage.” An ill-advised negotiator, he reasons, is one who gives up his influence. By canceling games rather than making a reasonable offer, the owners may have created an opportunity for players to regain influence in these negotiations.
If all that matters to the other side is money, then it follows that the best organ to attack is its wallet. The owners have managed to decouple their profitability from the quality product in the field and their income at the gate in recent years. What matters most now is the local TV deal and the windfall that comes from the league playoff broadcast deal. The union has the opportunity to put pressure on both.
While missing more games isn’t an ideal outcome for gamers or fans, missing a number of games could make owners nervous. Like New York Yankees right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon, tweeted recently: “The actions of the owners have clearly indicated that they have a set of games where they are still making a profit/receiving TV money.” That exact number is unknown, but The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal has suggested teams may have to give discounts after missing 25 games.
Players can also make good use of, or at least use, their threat to take the expanded playoff off the table if they weren’t allowed to play 162 games. The league pushed for a 14-team postseason that would create $100 million in additional revenue. The union has been more open to a 12-team format that would create another $85 million in new revenue. The owners seemed to prioritize the expanded playoffs more than anything else throughout the talks, suggesting the union could still give them the 12-team arrangement … just at a higher cost than before.
What, precisely, the union might demand of the league is anyone’s guess. Maybe they could get payment for a full season or, at a minimum, service time. Players will sacrifice themselves with every missed game. The owners know this and expect the losses to be too much for the players to bear. Their hope is almost certainly that the players will back down and submit before the owners are hit.
At some point, however, the equation changes. Players will still be out, probably to a greater degree than owners, but owners will suffer losses as well. When that happens, they will have lost some of the leverage that gave them the arrogance to offer totally unreasonable offers for the past three months.
Former Marlins executive David Samson discussed the latest MLB lockout on Monday’s Nothing Personal with David Samson. Listen below:
Leverage tends to dictate who comes out on top in trades. In this regard, the league has played its game well throughout the process. From the players’ perspective, they need to adopt the following mindset: if games are going to be missed, then make them count.