Analysis: Anger as much as money at center of broken talks

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Anger is at the center of Major League Baseball’s broken labor negotiations as much as money.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred’s cancellation of each team’s first two series is a byproduct of failed relationships in a fractured sport that can’t get out of its own way.

Negotiators returned home on Wednesday after Manfred failed to meet a deadline for a deal to preserve Opening Day. It was unclear when the parties will meet next.

“Instead of negotiating in good faith, MLB has locked us out,” three-time MVP Mike Trout wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Instead of negotiating a fair deal, Rob canceled games.”

Meetings have been unproductive for many days, partly in the nature of collective bargaining, but exacerbated in baseball by mistrust and mindsets that dwell on the past while looking to the future.

“A core of this negotiation is to increase competition and there’s no way we’re leaving the table without something that does that,” said free agent reliever Andrew Miller, one of eight players overseeing union negotiations. “We are not going to do anything to sacrifice this competition of the season. Anything that points to mediocrity is the antithesis of our game and who we are as players.

Players are seething over management’s actions in recent years. The union’s grievances over Kris Bryant’s demotion to the minor leagues in 2015, against Miami, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay for not spending revenue-sharing money properly, and against MLB alleging the 2020 season was shorter than it should have been hovering over the negotiations like an endless storm.

The players’ association takes umbrage at management’s slow negotiations once the lockout began on Dec. 2, but both sides were excruciatingly measured in disclosing advanced bargaining positions after concluding the other was in withdrawal.

And both sides made proposals meant to irritate the other in response to a previous plan that sparked fury.

During talks in late February in Florida, one side called its latest luxury tax proposal “intentionally lousy,” saying it was a mirror image of the other’s plan. It was the negotiation equivalent of a pitch.

The goal of the players is to improve the collective agreement for those who follow.

“For the younger generation of baseball players this is for you,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo tweeted.

Union leader Tony Clark, in criticizing MLB for locking players out rather than risking a late-season strike, referenced the shortened 60-game 2020 schedule.

“You only get a limited number of opening days,” he said. “If you’re an average major league player, you might see four. Having the opportunity to play for as long as humanly possible and find yourself in a world where, for the second time in two years, the schedule is shorter than it otherwise should or could have been is a problem.”

Although there are many outstanding issues, the three main economic elements are the luxury tax, the new pre-arbitration bonus pool and the minimum wage. Of these, the luxury tax threshold is the most important, as it has a huge impact on the amount of payroll the biggest spenders are willing to pay. This money often goes to the free agent, whose salaries filter to regulate the level of the players in arbitration.

When teams rebuilt and failed to compete for titles in a given season, it angered players who accused them of tanking.

“It’s not just money. Money can be important for the market to function functionally,” Miller said. “We’ve seen tendencies to take advantage of places where a player wasn’t receiving as much as they were contributing. Plus, we’ve been yelling about competition issues for years.

Seven of baseball’s eight work stoppages from 1972 to 1995 involved free agency, salary arbitration and the fight against a salary cap — all but the first, which involved the pension plan. These fights were framed by a century of player management control and owners’ inability to deal with the referee’s decision that led to free agency.

Owners gained some cost control in negotiations in 2011 and 2016, which, combined with advanced analytics, led to less robust free agent markets and shifts in player demographics that pushed the union to push for change when negotiating a new contract.

The behavior of the club over the past five years and this impact on players has led to the lockout and cancellation of MLB regular season games for the first time in a generation. Until now, they cannot look ahead without looking back.

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