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Is the MLB-MLBPA Relationship Beyond Repair?

Major League Baseball is at a crossroads. We all know it. The battle between the league and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) is well-documented. They are the only major professional sport in the whole damn country, not to have formalized a return to play plan.

With both sides refusing to budge even slightly, the fallout from these negotiations could last for years. Baseball is among the least popular major sports in the country. It’s regional and so are the league’s TV deals. There’s no reason to expect the sport’s decline won’t continue, unless something changes fast.

Yet ESPN’s Buster Olney came out with a few suggestions on how to mitigate this issue. His proposal could lead to some goodwill from the fans. This is something I think both sides should listen to.

Player Suggestions

Olney’s first suggestion is for the players to form an independent team to assess union strategy. This team would incorporate labor lawyers from different sports, economists, statistical analysts, and more. 

Their job would be to look at the leadership within the union over the last few years and highlight their successes and shortcomings. Most notably, Tony Clark’s (MLBPA Executive Director) approach of “brinkmanship negotiation,”.

Personally, this is a smart move that I am surprised hasn’t been used before. The players have experienced some short-term wins, with Tony. One recent one is the current 2020 prorated salary argument. 

You can also see how Clark, who became executive director in 2013, and his leadership strategies may have caused stagnated salaries, compared to increasing team values. Look at how the average salary has almost completely stalled in the last five years, since the newest CBA in 2016 (Clark’s took his post atop the MLBPA in 2013).

YearSalary (in millions)% Change

Instead of standing firm on their demands, the MLBPA should begin to collaborate with the league. They need to look forward to post-2020 and the economic fallout from COVID-19. The extra set of neutral professionals would only assist the union in their negotiations with the MLB.

Or they could just utilize this magnificent four-point plan…

Ownership Suggestion

Olney looks at a similar route for the owners. Instead of just looking for best practices, they should also emphasize if they have contributed to the current labor issues. 

No shit.

Teams tanking for draft picks and manipulating service time are both major issues. The league needs to be able to strike a balance between their financial well-being and that of their sport’s lifeline (aka players and their fans).

Again, this is a relative no-brainer from Olney. Labor negotiations are never meant to be a one-sided affair. 

Why do you think arbitration is a thing?

We have seen things become increasingly one-sided in favor of ownership. With the gap between salaries and team value widening, it is time for the Pohlad Pocket Protectors (credit the Common Man Dan Cole) to understand the players are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to being paid for their value.

Is the relationship irreparable?

In short, I am not sure. 

I like to be optimistic when it comes to labor negotiations in sports. If I was a betting man, which I’m not, I would believe it is not irreparable. 

Not only does it seem like the players want to play the game they love but owners have vast financial incentives and investments to not let the sport fade out of view. Plus, fans are champing at the bit for baseball.

However, I do believe it will be on the players and the union to settle this dispute. The owners hold almost all the cards. While that is not always the best situation for anyone, now is not the time to continue bickering. It is instead time to focus on getting to the field this year and taking the battle to the offseason once COVID-19 has passed.

With the MLBPA rejecting a 76-game plan released yesterday, the issue does not appear close to a resolution. It’s easy to take the player’s side when it comes to their complaints, but you sometimes have to lose the battle to win the war.

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