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MLB, MLBPA deserve scorn for lack of agreement on season

LAKELAND, FL - MARCH 01: A detailed view of a pair of official Rawlings Major League Baseball baseballs with the imprinted signature of Robert D. Manfred Jr., the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, sitting in the dugout prior to the Spring Training game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on March 1, 2020 in Lakeland, Florida. The Tigers defeated the Yankees 10-4. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
LAKELAND, FL - MARCH 01: A detailed view of a pair of official Rawlings Major League Baseball baseballs with the imprinted signature of Robert D. Manfred Jr., the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, sitting in the dugout prior to the Spring Training game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on March 1, 2020 in Lakeland, Florida. The Tigers defeated the Yankees 10-4. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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Hope is quickly vanishing that MLB and the MLBPA will agree on a plan for the 2020 season.

I’ll be the first to admit that I looked at this whole situation between the league and the Players Association through the wrong lens. As much difficulty as MLB and the MLBPA were going to have in hammering out a deal, I still thought they’d get one done. As tough as the negotiations might be, anything would be better than a lost season. Or so I thought.

As it turns out, a lost season might just be what we end up with. In a time when the sport could’ve risen to the challenge and recaptured the nation’s attention and adoration, instead it remains mired in pettiness and avarice. They’re stuck in the mud with no desire to get out.

First, the league proposed an 82-game schedule, but with some serious pay cuts that the players wouldn’t have accepted under any circumstances. Then the players come back with a 114-game proposal, knowing full well such a season would cause teams to lose even more money. Both sides’ initial proposals were non-starters, and they knew it. As a result, we have a stalemate.

Both of them have leverage, but they also severely overestimated the amount of leverage they had. They’re living in their own little bubble, showing no regard for the reality around them or the fans who’ve been dying for baseball to help them achieve a sense of normalcy in this crazy world.

Consequences Go Beyond 2020

It’s safe to say the relationship between MLB and the MLBPA is as strained as it’s been since the 1994 strike. We all know how that went, and it took the rise of the steroid era to really get fans back into the game. Funny how what saved the game two decades ago is one of the biggest points of contention among those who follow it today.

The current labor agreement expires on Dec. 1, 2021, and that date looms larger than any other right now. The league and the players are both trying hard — too hard, in my estimation — to project strength. Any willingness to give an inch could be seen as weakness, and it’s dangerous for both sides as well as their respective representatives. Rob Manfred and Tony Clark are trying to keep their jobs, and they can’t do that by giving in.

But in order for there to be an agreement at all, both sides are going to have to give up some ground. Anyone with half a brain can see that, which means MLB and the MLBPA can see it too. But neither side wants to be the first to blink, so here we sit.

When taking part in a negotiation, you have to consider the BATNA — the best alternative to a negotiated agreement. In other words, what would happen if the negotiation fails and the sides can’t agree? It helps identify the point at which each side should be willing to walk away.

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In this case, the BATNA is that there’s no 2020 season. These two sides trying to negotiate may be like pulling teeth, but seemingly any agreement is better than there being no season at all. This is why I believed they would eventually make something work, but now I’m not so sure.

MLB seems to believe that it can mandate the playing of a short season while paying players their full prorated salaries, which might be better than nothing. But the players won’t be happy about it and could decide to strike, and the league can’t expand the postseason without the MLBPA signing off on it. So a 48-game season without player approval doesn’t look like a better alternative to negotiating either.

Strength, Or Lack Thereof

It seems like both sides would rather face the consequences of a lost season than run the risk of looking weak. Players lose money and an entire season off their careers while the league loses fans, sponsorships and the loss of revenue that will follow. Yet those risks don’t seem to be enough to drive them to a deal.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan took an in depth look at the divide between the two sides in terms of money. It’s significant, but it’s nothing that can’t be bridged. They’re getting nowhere because the root cause of all this is about much more than 2020 revenue.

It’s about 2021 and beyond. It’s about players who feel undervalued. It’s about owners, who’ve been accustomed to growing profits, now feeling like they’re getting squeezed. It’s about distrust, public posturing and caring about winning more than anything else. It’s about two sides who fail to see the greater good.

This is as much a stain on the league as it is on the players. Both sides are stubbornly willing to fight tooth and nail for every last dollar, refusing to give an inch because they fear the long-term ramifications. They fail to see that the proverbial needle moving slightly in either direction won’t make a great deal of difference in the long run. If they do right by fans now, they’ll all reap the financial rewards in the end.

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But instead of seeing the fans and the world around them, they only see the other side trying to beat them, and they refuse to lose. That type of attitude is going to cost them much more than a few million bucks, and the fact that they’re too blind to see it is disheartening. We all deserve better.

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