If you thought you had already seen enough animosity, resentment and rancor to make every Hollywood reality-TV show envious during the 98 days of this Major League Baseball lockout, buckle up, because you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Commissioner Rob Manfred canceled the second week of regular-season gamespushing Opening Day back until at least April 14 after negotiations with the players union fell apart Wednesday.
MLB officials said the games will not be made up and that players will not be paid for missed games, costing the players a total of about $20.5 million a day and perhaps service time toward salary arbitration and free agency. The union plans to fight for all of their rights no matter how much the season is abbreviated.
“In a last-ditch effort to preserve a 162-game season, this week we have made good-faith proposals that address the specific concerns voiced by the MLBPA and would have allowed the players to return to the field immediately,” Manfred said in a prepared statement. “The clubs went to extraordinary lengths to meet the substantial demands of the MLBPA. On the key economic issues that have posed stumbling blocks, the clubs proposed ways to bridge gaps to preserve a full schedule. Regrettably, after our second late-night bargaining session in a week, we remain without a deal.
“Because of the logistical realities of the calendar, another two series are being removed from the schedule, meaning that Opening Day is postponed until April 14th. We worked hard to reach an agreement and offered a fair deal with significant improvements for the players and our fans. I am saddened by this situation’s continued impact on our game and all those who are a part of it, especially our loyal fans.
“We have the utmost respect for our players and hope they will ultimately choose to accept the fair agreement they have been offered.”
STAY UP-T0-DATE:Subscribe to our Sports newsletter now
The union quickly responded with its own statement: “The owners’ decision to cancel additional games is completely unnecessary. After making a set of comprehensive proposals to the league earlier this afternoon, and being told substantive responses were forthcoming, players have yet to hear back. Players want to play, and we cannot wait to get back on the field for the best fans in the world. Our top priority remains the finalization of a fair contract for all players, and we will continue negotiations toward that end.”
The cruel irony of the canceled games is that the two sides had bridged the gap on most of the core economic issues, with each side expressing cautious optimism, but ultimately it was the conflict over the international draft that doomed the talks.
MLB badly wanted an international draft, but it was met with strong resistance. Several star players and agents were vehemently against the international draft, including Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz, and San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. MLB kept pressing throughout the day, offering to raise international spending by $17 million including a 20- round draft involving at least 600 players.
The union refused, and provided a written proposal to MLB late in the morning that did not include a proposal for an international draft. The union said it was promised a counter-proposal by MLB, but instead were offered three options:
► Accept the international draft for the elimination of draft pick compensation in free agency.
► Provide players a Nov. 15, 2022 deadline to agree to an international draft in 2024, which would also include the elimination of draft pick compensation.
► Keep the status quo.
The union, after meeting with its executive subcommittee, rejected all three options and instead provided their own proposal:
“Remove draft pick compensation. The parties have until Nov. 15 to agree to an international draft. If no agreement, then draft pick compensation comes back after the 2022-23 offseason and reverts back to current international amateur system.”
MLB didn’t bother to answer, and instead announced the second week of canceled games, infuriating the union.
MLB, despite already canceling the first week of games, informed the union that if a deal is made, it would make up the lost games by revising the schedule. The plan was to start a week late, with Opening Day on April 6-7, and extending the regular season calendar by three days, an official with direct knowledge told USA TODAY Sports. The other missed games would be made up in doubleheaders. They also had planned to have players report to camp Saturday with spring training games starting on March 18.
Now, the entire slate of regularly scheduled spring training games will likely be wiped out in Arizona and Florida.
“We didn’t want this to happen,” Chicago White Sox All-Star closer Liam Hendriks said. “We didn’t strike. We didn’t do anything. We’re just trying to get to a point where we’re making sure the game is competitive… and the best players are on the field, and to make sure the fans get their money’s worth.
“As a group, we apologize.”
Who knows what even happens next with the rancor and distrust between the two sides, leaving everything else they already agreed upon up in the air.
Remember, the postseason was going to be expanded from 10 teams to 12 teams. If the players are docked pay, they said they would not agree to any expanded playoff format.
The owners promised a universal DH, but if there’s no expanded playoffs, maybe that’s pulled off the table.
The union gave MLB the right to implement three new rule changes on a 45-day notice instead of a full year: Implementing a pitch clock, having restrictive shift forcing all four infielders to be on the dirt when the pitch is thrown, and enlarged bases . Now, that arrangement could be gone.
The shame of the agreement’s collapse is that both sides had largely bridged the gap on their economic issues:
MLB, which had barely budged on its luxury tax thresholds, increased it by $10 million to $230 million in 2022, which increases to $232 million, $236 million, $240 million and $242 million. The union had lowered its demands to $232 million the first year, increasing to $235 million, $240 million, $245 million and $250 million.
MLB raised the pre-arbitration bonus pool from $30 million to $40 million, while the union dropped its proposal to $65 million, which also included $5 million increments each year.
MLB also raised the minimum salary to $700,000 the first year, rising each year to $715,000, $730,000, $750,000 and $770,000. The union lowered their minimum salary proposal to $710,000, rising to $780,000.
The two sides agreed on a six-pick draft lottery, and to help further curb tanking, small-market teams could only pick in the draft lottery two consecutive years while large-market teams can pick just once in the lottery before sliding to the 10th pick.
There was also going to be a new rule to help prevent manipulation of service time with the top two finishers in the rookie of the year race getting a full year of service. Also, a team that has a rookie on the Opening Day roster can receive a draft pick each year if the player finishes among the top rookies or top 5 in the MVP and Cy Young balloting.
It also agreed on a provision that players could no longer be optioned more than five times in a season before being exposed to waivers. There were 56 players who were optioned at least six times last year, including 35 pitchers.
It’s unknown just how much the game will be permanently scarred, but without a full season, there’s fear the damage could be irreparable.
“I don’t know if we’re going to have another steroid era to save the game,” San Francisco Giants outfielder Austin Slater said at the union’s workout camp in Mesa, Ariz. “The league lucked out that there was a home run chase like no one had ever seen before (in 1998). I can’t predict the future, maybe that happens again, but I’d say the chances are just pretty low.”
Playing 162 games was at least going to protect the integrity of the season, but now that is gone.
“I’ve been a fan longer than I’ve been a player,” Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen said, “so I put myself in their shoes. And I know people can judge the money factor from both sides, but we want fans in the stands and we want the season to happen because we miss them. I mean, fans make this sport great.”
And, if the fans’ anger doesn’t subside, well, who can blame ’em?
“It’s something we’re going to have to live with,” Slater said. “It’s going to be a black mark on the game moving forward. Hopefully, fans will recover and come back to the ballparks, but you never know.”
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @bnightengale.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism