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Goodbye, Opening Day

And with the MLBPA standing firm, the question is begged: Goodbye, season?

From this podium in Jupiter on Tuesday evening, Rob Manfred swears he can see the reserve clause in the distance.

After a lackluster overtime session on Tuesday (“it was not a particularly productive day”), baseball commissioner Rob Manfred officially cancelled the first two series of baseball’s regular season, keeping spring training closed at least through March 8.

Manfred met with reporters in Jupiter, Fla. after the league’s imposed 5:00 p.m. ET deadline ran out, admitting that “negotiations are deadlocked right now” and acknowledging that the MLBPA brass was headed back to New York with “no[new sessions] scheduled right now.”

Manfred made it clear that those first two series of the season were not merely postponed but cancelled, as full-season interleague play makes it impossible for AL-NL matchups to be realistically made up later in the season on off-days or as doubleheaders.

The White Sox will lose six games, including their scheduled home opener on March 31 vs. the Minnesota Twins. The April 2-3 remainder of the Twins series, and the three-game series at Kansas City April 4-7 are gone, making 2022 at most a 156-game season.

The new Opening Day for the White Sox is now April 12, hosting Seattle. So you weirdos who snagged tix for the first night game of the year, vs. the Mariners, your gamble paid off.

Manfred did his typical deflecting during his brief, 10-minute remarks, groaning that “the last five years have been difficult for the industry, in terms of the pandemic.” A question about why ownership had brought a decided lack of urgency to the table over the past three months or longer was met with Manfred pointing to the last 10 days of negotiations heating up just yesterday.

Even a direct question that challenged Manfred’s self-affirmed status as a great negotiator was waved off, pointing again to the fact that it takes both parties to negotiate — conveniently avoiding the truth that he and ownership kept the MLBPA waiting months for offers and counteroffers this winter.

The MLBPA did not have a no-tie press conference immediately after negotiations broke down, but did issue an acerbic statement in the aftermath of Manfred soiling himself:

However, it wasn’t long before the Players’ Association deftly pieced together their own flash mob of frustrated players and bleary-eyed negotiators. Its postscript reflected the above, but contradicted at least one key point from Manfred. The commissioner had said earlier that there was no language coming from ownership along the lines of “final offers” and such; however, MLBPA lead negotiator Bruce Meyer felt otherwise, saying during the MLBPA conference, “Today they were very clear that the last thing they gave us was their best and final offer — they used those words several times.”

We also learned of one oddball add from the owners, as they were attempting to wedge rules changes (a pitch clock and larger bases) into negotiations.

And there was also a troubling sign on the horizon: Players, who did not sign on for a lockout, lagging negotiations or cancelled games, will not accept pay for fewer than 162 games.

But things had started off with such promise.

On Tuesday MLB and the MLBPA reconvened at Roger Dean Stadium for one more round of negotiations, as MLB had pushed their imposed Monday deadline to Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. ET. Both groups caucused for two-and-a-half hours before meeting together in an attempt to build off “momentum” from Monday, where talks didn’t conclude until nearly 2:30 a.m. The rhetoric throughout the day was that progress was being made, and that it was possible that a deal was (somewhere) on the horizon.

That would change fairly quickly by Tuesday afternoon.

MLBPA submitted their proposal to the league following Monday night’s discussions, and everything went sour fairly quickly. MLB quickly jumped at the opportunity to place blame on the players, alleging that the union had a “change in tone” and would be the ones at fault for game cancellations — even though the MLBPA has been clear that they have been cautiously optimistic, knowing how far apart they remained in several economic areas. The two parties reportedly agreed to a 12-team playoff expansion, as MLB included this along with economic updates to their proposal:

February 28 MLB Proposal:

Luxury Tax/CBT: Starts at $220 million, increasing to $230 million by 2026. Tax penalties remaining the same as expiring CBA (20%, 32%, and 62.5%)

  • 2022: $220 million
  • 2023: $220 million
  • 2024: $220 million
  • 2025: $224 million
  • 2026: $230 million

Pre-arbitration Bonus Pool: $25 million, no increase over CBA

  • Super Two player eligibility remains at 22%

Minimum League Salary: $675,000, increasing by $10,000 each year

  • 2022: $675,000
  • 2023: $685,000
  • 2024: $695,000
  • 2025: $705,000
  • 2026: $715,000

With the news that the two sides had agreed to the playoff expansion — or agreed on anything at all — it felt like negotiations could potentially proceed positively into Tuesday. However, the MLBPA’s proposal was unsatisfying to the league, as evidenced by ownership crying to the media about it — and yet even with this proposal it would still be a pro-owner deal. The union lowered its request of the pre-arbitration bonus pool to $85 million (down from $115 million), with a $5 million increase each year up to $105 million. It also reduced demands on minimum salary and slightly adjusted the CBT request.

MLB snapped back, saying that it didn’t accept the union’s offer and provided one more “best and final offer” before the 5:00 p.m. deadline. The league made slight increases to the pre-arbitration bonus pool and minimum salaries, though they did not make any adjustments to the CBT. MLB’s proposal also included five draft lottery picks, as previously discussed on Monday.

It may come as a shock, but the players rejected this proposal from the league and alas, for the first time since 1995, there will be a work stoppage imposed by the lockout. There are currently no clear next steps for continuing negotiations or the status of canceled games, but this is a sad day for the game of baseball.

Many immediately started criticizing the players, but the union has already conceded in several areas and would still be coming up short with this proposal, so why should the players be the ones that have to settle?

Put another way: If you photocopied the last CBA and placed it alongside ownership’s best offer, would this last offer be better? No. The union has negotiated backwards for two decades or more, and ownership simply expects that to keep happening.

And more importantly, why did the league wait until the very last second before making serious offers — which Manfred himself as much as admitted doing in his postmortem on Tuesday?

Players were understandably angry about MLB’s suggestion that the union had “shifted their tone,” making them out to be the bad guys, even though the league are the ones who locked the players out. San Francisco Giants pitcher Alex Wood, who has been consistently speaking out about the mistreatment from the league throughout the entirety of the negotiations, reiterated that the MLBPA hasn’t changed their tone, they just want a deal.

The commissioner noted that the league is concerned about fans and the impact the lockout will continue to have on the 2022 season, and the irony is almost too much to handle, considering how unnecessary this cancellation of games was. Friendly reminder: Manfred could easily lift the lockout, get players into camps to prepare for the season, and continue negotiating in good faith. Rob previously mentioned that the league has struggled financially and that investing in the stock market would be smarter, and he doubled down on this Monday afternoon, stating that the last few years have been rough in terms of revenue (strangely, citing only the pandemic, as if it began in 2017).

Travis Sawchik of The Score noted the insane amount of revenue that the league has accumulated over the last few years, and it’s frankly hilarious that Manfred continues to make claims like this when Google exists.

It is extremely disheartening for fans, especially considering that the league is arguing over changes that appear to be massive, but are only a drop in the bucket if you are pulling in $10 billion a year. Bob Nightengale noted that there is a $50,000 difference between the players and owners for minimum salary. If you do the math for 25 players per team, it is just a $1.25 million extra per team compared to MLB’s proposed salary. This is such a trivial amount compared to the billions of revenue the league generates. It’s ludicrous that MLB is bent out of shape about $37.5 million, especially knowing they stand to gain $100 million-plus in playoff expansion TV deals and uniform patches.

Manfred noted that the league is ready to continue negotiating (as if there had been no league-imposed deadlines!) despite MLBPA negotiators leaving Florida. Later in the day, MLBPA reiterated that it was willing to resume talks as soon as Wednesday. So on one hand, there’s no reason to expect that talks won’t fire right back up shortly.

But there’s also no reason to believe that, with this degree of bad faith and the two sides positioned so far apart, a new CBA is right around the corner.