MLB lockout: This is the week we’ve been waiting for

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 7: Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association talks to the media prior to the spring training game between the New York Mets and the New York Yankees at First Date Field on March 7, 2018 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 7: Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association talks to the media prior to the spring training game between the New York Mets and the New York Yankees at First Date Field on March 7, 2018 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit

As far as the regular season is concerned, Monday begins the decisive week in this winter’s labor negotiations and direction of the current MLB lockout.

Representatives of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and MLB have both committed to meeting daily in an effort to work through the numerous issues, several of them substantial, that separate the sides.

If the MLB lockout isn’t resolved this week, starting the regular season on time likely may not happen

The consensus, which has not been disputed by any of the central parties, is that if an agreement is not reached by week’s end, the regular season will not start on time March 31. That’s because the sides do agree on one thing, namely that a minimum of four weeks of prep time will be needed once a deal is settled upon.

The past several weeks, which have seen only sporadic, mostly fruitless, negotiations, have instead been filled with much complaining about the lack of progress.

The reality is that ever since the December 1 expiration date of the previous Basic Agreement was set several years ago – and especially since it became clear more than a year ago that the Players Association would seek major changes in a new agreement – this last week of February was always destined to be the important week on the negotiation calendar.

Until now, neither side has really been under pressure to concede much if any ground in an effort to strike a deal. Until now, the cost of waiting has been relatively trivial: The loss of some spring training games mostly populated by prospects plus whatever negative press accrues due to the delays.

And given the fact that the negotiations to date have taken place during a time-frame dominated by the Super Bowl, there has been only minimal attention on the labor talks, reducing any potential damage to the game.

That all changes once regular-season games are cancelled, a worst-case scenario and something that’s only happened three times in history.

  • In 1972, a March spring training strike bled into April at a cost of 86 regular-season games over 13 days. Each team lost between six and eight games.
  • In 1981, a mid-season strike cost 713 games — about 50 games for each team — and led to creation of a “split season” format for that postseason.
  • In 1994, a strike halted the season on August 11 and prompted cancellation of the remainder of that season, including the postseason. That strike bled over into the start of the 1995 season, costing each team another 15 to 20 games. Total cancellations amounted to 938 regular-season games in addition to the 1994 postseason.

The most valid reason for pessimism this year is that the sides have, to date, made so little progress in narrowing the gaps in their differences. The major issues include the amount of luxury tax threshold as well as pay for less-experienced players, and in neither of those have significant movements occurred by either side.

Among the substantial number of people who view the leaders of one side or the other as idiots, that’s reason enough to expect little or no progress this week.

But while it may satisfy an emotional urge to think of the negotiators as idiots, the reality is they know what’s at stake very well. That leads to three main reasons for optimism.

First, while the game has suffered little if any damage to date from the stalled talks, that will certainly change if regular-season games are lost. Neither side benefits from that.

The second reason is history. There have been three previous owner-prompted lockouts, those taking place in 1973, 1976, and 1990. In every case, no regular-season games were lost, although — as is the case this year — some of those lockouts went to the brink before achieving an agreement.

The third reason should be the most reassuring of all. Every word written above — the timing, the stakes, the lack of urgency to this point, the true urgency that will build over the next week — has been known for more than a year now. It has been nothing more or less that the orchestrated playing out of a process.

That means what we have been seeing from both sides to this point can largely be characterized as posturing. The serious talk is only now about to begin.

How much can the MLBPA still gain in negotiations?. dark. Next

If we’re in the same spot a week from now, then we can begin talking about idiots.