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7 Takeaways from MLB’s financial dispute

On Friday, ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote a math equation article titled Inside MLB’s financials fight – and the numbers to solve it about the financial dispute between the owners and players’ union that is currently preventing baseball from returning. It’s long and complex but worth the time. I had some takeaways after reading it.

The italicized parts are from Passan’s article and my takeaways are below.

Takeaway: How large is the financial gap really?

Distilled to the simplest form, Major League Baseball is in crisis because of a $326 million problem. That is $10,880,000 per team, or the cost of a decent No. 4 starter.

$326 million: $2 million more than the Yankees spent on Gerrit Cole this offseason. $326 million: $4 million less than the Phillies spent on Bryce Harper last offseason. $326 million: Roughly the same amount I spend on beer at Yankee Stadium each year.

There are a lot of numbers that Jeff presents that gets to that conclusion, and I’m not sure I even understand fully how he arrived at that number, but is roughly $11 million per team really preventing baseball from returning? I have a hard time believing that no matter how stubborn each side is.

Takeaway: Distrust is at the heart of the issue

It (compromise) relies on numbers that are generally accepted by both sides, a rarity considering the rampant distrust that has turned negotiations thus far into a stalemate.

Distrust is the hallmark of the current relationship between the union and league, and it has metastasized into other areas.

Those two sentences are taken from different points in the article, but distrust is the common thread.

The $11 million per team number in the first takeaway is based on information the owners provided to the union. And the union doesn’t even trust those numbers are real!

The owners and union relationship is so far gone at this point that the only way I see it being resolved is to blow the thing up. They make every “t” crossed and “i” dotted seem like the signing of a nuclear pact. Efficient negotiations — not a back-and-forth pissing match they have through the media — will only happen with major changes to the CBA and to the sport.

Takeaway: Wasted Time

The lack of urgency demonstrated by both sides illustrates just how badly baseball has allowed the financial standoff to bungle its return. While April was spent figuring out the best plan to return to play — MLB considered playing in a bubble setting like the NBA and in multicity hubs before settling on trying to play in home stadiums — May was a completely wasted month. The sides are as far apart now as they’ve been.

When I read this I suddenly had the realization: Holy shit, nothing was accomplished in May. That may sound naive but it didn’t feel like that while the 31 days were ticking by. Back in April we had actual ideas being generated about how to get back on the field. Yes, there was the huge COVID unknown which made things tricky, but the realigned divisions, Arizona bubble plan and Spring Training East/West plans were all discussed. What happened in May other than financial proposals being spit on week after week?

I know they agreed on prorated salary based on number of games back on March 26, but SO MUCH changed between the end-March and mid-April. Both sides had to realize economic issues were going to come up again. How did they leave the most important issue — despite what they say about health and safety protocols, money reigns supreme — until the very end? They made the procrastinating I did in college look urgent.

Takeaway: September 27

Regardless of the number of games played, MLB’s plans include a regular season that would end around Sept. 27. The league predicates the date on fears of a potential second wave of the coronavirus wiping out the playoffs, a cash cow MLB said in its financial presentation is worth nearly $800 million in media rights.

We’ve all focused on a potential start date — July 1? July 4th weekend? July 15? August 1? — but the end date is more important. MLB won’t allow for the regular season (however many games it is) to go past Sep. 27 because of a possible COVID second wave. Playoffs will generate nearly $800 million in media rights and they will not do anything to sacrifice that. So as we go deeper into June, keep that Sep. 27 date in mind.

With that, 82-games is the longest season possible with a July 1(ish) start. That would allow for 7 total off days, which if the union says is not enough, games will be cut or double headers will be scheduled.

Takeaway: There will probably not be a players’ strike

As much of a hammer as the league holds with the schedule, the union is not without weaponry of its own. It’s true: Players must play if MLB schedules games. Individuals sitting out without permission would be placed on the restricted list and not receive service time, per the March agreement. Players not reporting en masse would likely be deemed an illegal strike. Where the players can strike is at a pair of MLB weaknesses: money and marketing.

I guess that’s good news, right? I feared that if the owners set a schedule without union approval then players would strike (like they did in 1994) and then next spring when they showed up for work, the owners would lock them out (like they did in 1995). Imagine adding that on top of the December CBA negotiations?

Takeaway: The players don’t really have leverage

Further is the ancillary harm players can cause by separating baseball and Major League Baseball. They have too much self-respect to allow baseball, on the field, to suffer. In the absence of a deal, players would be exceedingly motivated to make Major League Baseball suffer. In-game microphones worn by players to enhance TV broadcasts? No chance. Interviews with MLB Network? Unlikely. Meeting with a sponsor, if ever stadiums reopen to fans? Sorry, just too busy. It would be a clinic in passive-aggressiveness, with players saying that if the game does not want to invest in them, it will simply return the favor.

In addition to taking 2020 and ’21 expanded playoffs back off the table, which owners would not like but currently don’t actually have, those things are what Passan says the players can do to hurt the business of Major League Baseball.

That’s it?!

If I’m an owner I’m laughing at that. So you won’t wear microphones on the field which you would have probably demanded is on tape delay so nothing interesting is said, or even worse, have final edit over? Cool. You mean you don’t want to give a boring 30-second interview during the 5th inning? Ok. You won’t talk to RoFlo on MLB Network? Aw shucks. You won’t meet with sponsors that pay millions of dollars for ten minutes of your time? Like hell you wont. You’ll gladly take the perks and paychecks just like you always have.

None of that stuff actually affects the bottom line of the owners and that is all they care about. Unless the union suddenly pulls a bigger bargaining chip out of their ass, I don’t see them having any leverage.

I also find it ironic that players complain about MLB not marketing it’s stars, and they might threaten to not do things to market the game and themselves.

If players have too much self respect to let the ON FIELD baseball suffer, then how about pitchers start throwing the baseball quicker, batters stop stepping out of the box and readjusting their equipment every other pitch, and the two sides figure out how to get the time of games to a more palatable length.

Takeaway: There will be baseball in 2020, but it won’t be a season people are happy with

This is more of a takeaway from my conversations with people on Twitter today.

Many people in the replies have said 48-games is not a real baseball season. Guess what? I never said it was. They said bad teams could get into the “playoffs” because anyone can be hot for 50-games. Guess what? Who cares, it’s just one year. Or they used the argument that the World Series champion Nationals were below-.500 after 48-games in 2019. Guess what? Don’t get off to a bad start. Also, the Nats epic turnaround last year is the exception, not the rule. Most of the time the good teams are good from the start and the bad teams are bad from the start.

I’ll grant you that the mediocre teams have a much better chance to be in the playoffs after 48-games than after 162, or even 82. But again, this is a one-off year with unprecedented circumstances and I am actually curious what the product looks like in a condensed season. The urgency would be exciting. A 3-game losing streak would be panic. Load management for Gleyber Torres? No shot.

48-games is not my first choice. I think 82 is a good number for 2020 that is realistic based on the data we have. But if they play 48 I will gladly watch it. If you think it will disgrace the sport, then guess what? Don’t watch.