MLBPA Expected to Present Counteroffer Monday, Owners Seemingly Prepared to Play Chicken

There has been exactly one CBA negotiation meeting since owners locked players out one minute after the expiration of the old deal on December 2, but that number will double on Monday. That’s when the union will present its counteroffer to the league’s initial proposal that was not viewed very favorably at the time. All expectations are that the owners will likewise think little of what they are presented in this next meeting.

Thing is, the reaction — or lack thereof — will be more about leverage than any true opinion of the offer’s viability. As Even Drellich wrote for The Athletic, the owners “want to test the players” and are prepared to wait this thing out until the very last moment. Exactly what they consider midnight, however, is very much in question.

A common refrain that’s been sung by those covering the situation is that it’ll be mid-February before anything gets worked out, an idea that has long had me believing the owners are playing a game of chicken. They want to wait until right before spring training before giving any ground, or so it has seemed for a while. But what if they’re willing to torpedo some or all of the exhibition slate and even some of the regular season?

As we discussed at length during negotiations to re-start the truncated 2020 season, owners don’t really start sweating until the postseason is in jeopardy. That’s where the biggest portion of their broadcast rights lie and it’s the reason they want to keep expanding the playoff pool. Losing out on prorated portions of their in-season rights fees means little in the end, particularly if those losses are mitigated by not having to make payroll.

Players, on the other hand, will start feeling the heat when those paychecks aren’t rolling in. While Max Scherzer and other vets are insulated against an interminable work stoppage, those clinging to a 40-man spot aren’t quite so lucky. Unless they squirreled away the pittance they earned in the minors and the MLB check or two they got in September, the members of MLB’s rank and file could start getting restless.

That’s what the owners are hoping for, anyway, and it’s why these meetings have been so few and far between. The lockout was meant to create a free-agent feeding frenzy that generated hype and goodwill while also providing the league with the bargaining/PR cudgel that nearly $2 billion was spent in November. In a move that surprised no one, Rob Manfred swung that very stick in his letter to fans justifying the freeze.

Owners are also hoping seeds of discontent will find fertile ground here soon, forcing the players to acquiesce to certain economic tenets at the core of the disagreement. The players, on the other hand, are more united than ever after having lost ground five years ago and watching as ownership’s share of booming league revenues has increased over an even longer period.

My very cautious optimism that something will be worked out is waning by the day, though I’m maintaining a tight grip on a strand or two of hope that the owners will come to their senses. Now I’m just praying they don’t sever that cord with the same scalpel they hold poised over their collective nose.

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