You notice it often these days. An odor for those who follow the Detroit Tigers and MLB. It’s a smell that isn’t teen spirit. It’s a funk that smells like trouble.
Trouble can take lots of forms…but for MLB it’s a double-dip of disorder. COVID-19 and all its possibly catastrophic economic losses on the game flowing right into what could be the first work stoppage in MLB since 1995.
Teams that deem themselves as revenue-needy are also selling off their greatest stars (Lindor, Arenado, Taillon) at prices that don’t exactly enthuse their respective fan bases. It’s a bad look if not necessarily bad business.
The common theme in this space throughout the off-season has been the Tigers’ reluctance to spend real money to compete and a passive acceptance they’ll be a non-competitive entity in 2021. While that seems incontrovertibly true for now, is there a reason to justify part of the Tigers actions due to league-wide issues?
COVID and the next CBA
There are world problems and national problems which don’t need rehashing. However, there is no question many of the problems MLB is experiencing during the COVID-19 era stem from dealing with larger societal issues at play.
The added problem is the COVID chaos is putting extra pressure on non-pandemic issues in MLB. Specifically looming labor strife between the players and the owners is slowly gaining steam. The collective bargaining agreement expires after this season and it seems both sides are girding their loins for a bare-knuckle Donnybrook.
On Sunday the MLBPA is said to have turned down the owner’s offer to shorten the season to 154 games and delay the start for a few weeks while the players would retain their 162-game level of pay. However, MLB is also looking to expand the playoffs as part of the deal. The players would get no cut of the new TV money this would create, just the gate. That seems like a major sticking point.
This development is just another bump in the road as the two sides get closer and closer to the CBA running out. No issues have been resolved easily over the last year such as the wrangling which occurred over the COVID re-start.
There are several potential sticking points. Some bound to get uglier than others to resolve. If union head Tony Clark and Commissioner Rob Manfred keep at loggerheads on too many issues it’s becoming very tough to see either side capitulating quickly to avoid a lockout or a strike.
Manfred will represent the Ilitch Family and the other owners by crying COVID induced poverty and claiming there is little to no room for sharing the wealth with the players. The Union will be looking to use their leverage over the owners’ statements of losing money by holding out for a laundry list of items. They also want to make up for what was viewed by many as an owner’s “win” on the last CBA.
What MLBPA could want:
1. Raising or killing off the Competitive Balance Tax (Luxury Tax)
2. Discontinue the qualifying offer and the penalty for signing FA’s
3. Put an end to, or alleviate Service Time Manipulation
4. Increased percentage for the players of overall revenue
For the owners it would seem to expand the playoffs is at the forefront of their desires. An International Draft has been mentioned less of late but could be something the union could give up to get one of their other points over the finish line.
Expanding the playoffs is certainly the easiest revenue builder for MLB and can be set up at no extra cost with the snap of Manfred’s fingers once the union agrees. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Clark and MLBPA giving in to MLB on this point without a sizable concession from MLB.
If the owners see the increased playoff pool as their best ticket back to their preferred level of prosperity it would seem the players could hold out for raising the minimum wage scale for 1st-year players by a significant amount and coupling it with quicker access to arbitration and free agency.
Or the union could hold firm about the Competitive Balance Tax. They’ll certainly want to get rid of it but the owners will fight to keep it. Tying the tax level close to MLB revenue growth might work. By most accounts, the two haven’t kept pace.
The owners can possibly use putting an end to Qualifying Offers and draft pick penalties for signing free agents as a good starting point for concessions toward getting a deal in place. This only affects a few deals per year and the team losing the player could still be awarded a compensatory pick. There should be room for scaling back service time manipulation to make players satisfied as well.
Will posturing lead to war?
It just doesn’t seem like an agreement will be likely in ‘21. It has the feel of a fight both sides want. Once it gets to a certain point it’s easy to imagine a lost partial to a full season. They barely were able to pull it together for the re-start in ‘20 with the fear of the virus hanging over them. Now with a sense of successful experience regarding COVID, it’s a decent bet both sides will look to fight each other first and the virus second.
Detroit following instead of leading
Circling back to the Tigers…it’s easy to see why they’re going into a shell on spending. COVID losses and the possibility of an interrupted season(s) from lockouts/strikes makes it slightly understandable to take the conservative route for now.
They still should have zigged while MLB zagged and attacked this slow market to improve themselves by using the wealth of the 4th richest ownership group. But they’ve chosen the well-beaten path joining plenty of other teams who are keeping the powder dry financially.
Oooh That Smell!—Skynard
The smell of trouble is definitely permeating our nostrils. It might not be Lynard Skynard’s level of “That Smell” where “the smell of death surrounds you”. Baseball isn’t in its death throes…but the stench is easily reaching the level of week-old fish you haven’t thrown away yet.