M.L.B. Canceled Games. What Happens Now?


JUPITER, Fla. — On Tuesday, Major League Baseball and the players’ union failed to strike a new labor contract by the league’s self-imposed deadline.

After nine straight days of face-to-face negotiations, M.L.B. presented what it considered its best and final offer of the talks. The union rejected it and just minutes after the deadline passed, Commissioner Rob Manfred held a news conference in which he announced that the first two series of the regular season were canceled, a move he said would be “disastrous” just a month before.

“We worked hard to avoid an outcome that’s bad for our fans, bad for our players and bad for our clubs,” Manfred said at Roger Dean Stadium, the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins. “I want to assure our fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party.”

The games are the first missed because of a work stoppage since the 1994-95 players’ strike, which resulted in the loss of more than 900 games, including the 1994 World Series. That remains the longest work stoppage in baseball history, followed by this lockout.

There are a lot of questions about what happens next — and more will arise — but some answers are known.

A collective bargaining agreement is the labor document between management (the owners of M.L.B.’s 30 clubs, in this case) and laborers (the players), and it governs the league. The sides have been discussing a new five-year C.B.A. since last spring.

The past two agreements were viewed as having further tilted the balance of power and economics in the owners’ favor. And players — who have been frustrated with salaries that haven’t kept pace with club revenues, how younger players are being relied upon more but paid comparatively little, and the lack of competition among some teams — have been seeking a series of changes. The owners, though, believe the players have a fair system.

After the owners locked out the players on Dec. 2, talks did not begin between the parties until Jan. 13, and they were sporadic until a frantic push in the final week before the deadline to cancel games.

After a 16 ½-hour marathon negotiating session on Monday that bled into Tuesday morning, M.L.B. said it believed there had been enough progress made to extend the deadline to 5 p.m. Tuesday. The union, though, expressed caution at the muted optimism because of the sizable gaps that remained.

Tension rose on Tuesday when M.L.B. bristled at the union’s counterproposal in the afternoon; accused the union of changing its tone, which angered some players; and said it would present its so-called best and final offer before the deadline. The players rejected that proposal, and then Manfred canceled games.

There are many. Yes, there has been some compromise on matters such as the playoffs and a mechanism to help curb the service time manipulation of top rookie players.

But among the biggest areas of disagreement as of Tuesday: league minimum salaries, the amount of a new bonus pool created to reward young players not yet eligible for salary arbitration, and the luxury tax system. To read more about these issues, try here, here and here.

A series in baseball is anywhere between two to four games. For defending champion Atlanta, for example, the games from March 31 to April 5 were wiped off the schedule by Manfred’s announcement. Those were originally a season-opening four-game series against the Marlins in Miami and a two-game series against the Mets in New York. With each team losing at least five games, Manfred’s announcement canceled more than 75 games.

(Spring training games, which were originally supposed to start on Feb. 26, will begin no earlier than March 12, according to Atlanta’s website as of Wednesday.)

As the labor dispute continues, more regular season games are in jeopardy. M.L.B. had chosen its deadline because it believed a minimum of four weeks of spring training — two weeks shorter than usual — was needed to avoid a spike in injuries. The union, though, believes three weeks of spring training is feasible.

Players’ salaries are public, but owners’ revenues are largely not. The Braves, however, offered a recent rare glimpse into the numbers of a successful team by way of their status as the only team that is controlled by a publicly traded company in the United States. The team reported a $104 million profit in 2021, and its revenue per home game was $6 million.

Outside of opening day, April isn’t a particularly good month for attendance, particularly for teams in colder and rainier climates. Schools are also still in session.

How much television revenue might be lost, though, is unclear because each club’s local deals are different and not public. Some of those deals do not require the team to credit the network until roughly 20 games are missed. The big money in M.L.B.’s national television deals come from the postseason. (The 14-team expanded postseason that club owners had been seeking was valued at $100 million annually. Players wanted a 12-team format, which M.L.B. incorporated into its proposal package.)

As for players: Based on base salaries, which totaled just over $3.8 billion last season, they would combine to lose $20.5 million for each day wiped off the 186-day regular season schedule, according to calculations by The Associated Press.

Max Scherzer, the star pitcher who signed a deal with the Mets in the off-season that would pay him a record $43.3 million per year, stands to lose an estimated $233,000 for each day lost during the regular season. (Players’ paychecks begin when the regular season does, and the 162-game regular season is spread over 186 days.)

The majority of players, though, make the league minimum salary, which was $570,500 in 2021. According to the union, 60 percent of players who got into a game in the major leagues last year were paid roughly the league-minimum rate. (The latest proposal by M.L.B. called for the minimum salary to rise to $700,000 in 2022, while the players asked for $725,000 and larger annual increases.)

And if an agreement on crediting the lost service time of canceled games isn’t reached, some players could have their free-agent eligibility delayed after 15 days of the 2022 season are missed.

Teams have already begun announcing their ticket policies related to the cancellations. The Mets, for example, said tickets for the originally scheduled opening day would be honored for the first game of the season — whenever that happens.

That is a point of contention between M.L.B. and the union. And given that the sides argued fiercely for months over the schedule and pay relating to the coronavirus pandemic-shortened 2020 season, this matter will likely continue to linger.

The union believes there is precedent to altering the regular season schedule. In 1990, the 32-day lockout cut spring training in half, but the full schedule of regular-season games was played, beginning a week later than usual.

Asked to explain the league’s stance of canceling games rather than rescheduling them, Manfred cited the logistical difficulties of season-long interleague play. As for negotiating missed pay and service time for those games, he said, “Our position is that games that are not played players will not get paid.”

The union’s position is different. Bruce Meyer, the union’s lead negotiator, said that players will be asking for full pay and service time for those missed games, or for the missing games to be rescheduled. “If the league decided unilaterally to pull down games, then to get a deal, players should be compensated for those games,” he said.

On Thursday, the lead negotiators for M.L.B. (Dan Halem) and the players’ union (Meyer) will meet in person.

Tony Clark, the head of the union, had previously said that if M.L.B. had wanted to keep talking at Roger Dean Stadium on Tuesday, the union would have stayed.

“We have made the last proposal, so you draw your own conclusion as to who ought to go next,” Manfred said on Tuesday.

“M.L.B. and our clubs hope that this is going to get resolved soon,” a league spokesman said Wednesday. “But we’re not aware of any current club plans to furlough employees.” Everything could change if many more games are missed.

The owners — a group of billionaires — have more resources and access to more lines of credit than the players.

Manfred said on Tuesday that the past few years have been “very difficult from a revenue perspective for the industry given the pandemic.” In October 2020, Manfred said M.L.B.’s 30 clubs had amassed $8.3 billion of debt from their various lenders. According to M.L.B., the number rose to $9 billion last year.

Players, though, have been amassing what Scherzer, a top union representative, once called a “pretty good war chest” to help weather a work stoppage. According to federal filings by the union, it has gone from total assets of nearly $90 million at the end of the 2017 to $192 million three years later.

The medical benefits for players restart on April 1 of each year, Clark said. The union has said it will use its reserves to cover players’ medical care.

Because players have not been allowed at team facilities since the lockout began, they have been training, throwing and hitting on their own. Many players go to private facilities in the off-season anyway. They are expected to continue doing so until…

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