MLB cancels start of baseball season as talks falter

MLB cancels start of baseball season as talks falter

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Major League Baseball on Tuesday canceled at least six of its first batch of games for the 2022 season after team owners and the players’ union failed to reach agreement on a new employment contract.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league and team owners made several concessions to the players’ union during negotiations on Tuesday in Florida, but the sides could not reach a deal on a collective bargaining agreement. 

“The clubs and our owners fully understand just how important it is to our millions of fans that we get the game on the field as soon as possible,” Manfred said during a press conference after talks broke down. “To that end, we want to bargain and we want an agreement with the players association as quickly as possible.”

Manfred said team owners submitted an offer to the players union that included a new minimum player salary of $700,000, a $130,000 increase from last season. It also offered a roughly 33% pay increase for almost two-thirds of MLB players as well as to create an annual bonus pool of $30 million for the league’s young stars. The proposal also offered to reformat the MLB playoffs to include 12 teams rather than the 14 teams owners were pushing for, Manfred said. 

MLBPA officials said in a statement Tuesday that “fans around the world who love baseball are disgusted but sadly not surprised” by the cancellations.

“Against the backdrop of growing revenues and record profits, we are seeking nothing more than a fair agreement,” the players’ union said.

League officials said during the press conference that the first two series of the season are canceled. The Pittsburgh Pirates were scheduled to face the St. Louis Cardinals in a three-game series starting March 31, as were the New York Mets and Washington Nationals, according to the MLB schedule. Players who were scheduled to play during those games will not be paid, Manfred said. 

“I had hoped against hope I wouldn’t have to have this press conference where I am going to cancel some regular season games,” he said. “I want to assure our fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party.”

MLB officials told the players’ union last week that the league would cancel some regular season games if the sides failed to reach a new deal by midnight on Monday. Hoping to avoid that fate, the league set a 5 p.m. Eastern deadline on Tuesday to thrash out an agreement.

MLB players signed a five-year employment contract with the league in 2017, but that collective bargaining agreement expired December 2. Although the Major League Baseball Players Association has been in private negotiations with team owners since then, the talks have stalled for months. 

MLB generated a record $10.7 billion in revenue in 2019, according to Forbes. But that figured cratered to about $4 billion in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The average baseball player’s salary is $4.1 million, down almost 5% from 2019, according to the Associated Press.

The upper hand

A major obstacle to a deal has been team owners being unwilling to budge on key issues like sharing revenue from televised playoff games with players, said Johnny Ducking, a sports labor economist at North Carolina A&T State University. And owners are willing to stretch out negotiations much longer because they don’t have a paycheck on the line, he said.

“If you survey 10 economists, all 10 of them will say the owners have the upper hand,” Ducking told CBS MoneyWatch.

The contract talks have dragged on partly because it took both sides a while to return to the bargaining table. Ducking noted that owners and the players’ union had a lengthy round of negotiations about if and when teams would play during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020-21. Those talks were periodically contentious, which Ducking said may be coloring the latest talks. 

Without a contract, players are entering the season without specifics on the legal terms that govern their pay and working conditions. MLB announced earlier this month that spring training has been suspended until at least March 5 while both sides continue talks.

Manfred said Tuesday there are no scheduled upcoming days for both sides to restart negotiations. Representatives with the MLBPA are leaving Florida and flying back to New York, where the league is based, Manfred said. 

Spring training ends March 29, and the regular season is scheduled to begin March 31. 

Based on player salaries last year, which totaled just over $3.8 billion, MLB players stand to lose a combined $20.5 million for each day wiped off the 186-day regular-season schedule, The Associated Press reported. Each player loses 1/186 of their salary for each game lost. Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole, two players involved in the negotiations, would lose $232,975 and $193,548 respectively each day.

What to do about “tanking”?

Players and team owners are arguing over a range of issues, including pay and the practice of “tanking.” In most major sports, tanking is when a team purposely loses as many games as possible during the season to increase their chances of getting the top young talent from colleges. 

In baseball, however, teams may tan to get a higher percentage share of league revenue at the end of the season. That’s because MLB tries to level the competitive playing field between teams by ensuring every club gets roughly the same revenue every season. Teams that lose a lot of games tend to generate less revenue from their stadiums and merchandise sales, so the league sends money to make up for that loss. 

Tanking has caused some players’ salaries on certain teams to either decline or remain flat. Players and team owners are discussing new ways to discourage tanking, but they have yet to come up with a solution.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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