TORONTO – The outcome MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently called ‘disastrous’ is upon us: regular-season games will now be cancelled after talks between baseball’s players and owners stalled Tuesday afternoon in Jupiter, Fla.
After bargaining sessions that lasted all day Monday and extended well beyond midnight, there was some optimism that talks were finally gaining momentum in time to reach a deal that would allow for an on-time start to the season. But MLB’s final offer didn’t move substantially on the competitive balance tax, among other issues, and the players declined.
“It’s over,” one player said. “We felt that basically nothing was acceptable about the best and final offer.”
Manfred announced the cancellation of the first two series of the season, meaning regular-season games will officially be lost to a work stoppage for the first time since the players’ 1994-95 strike.
“We worked hard to avoid an outcome that’s bad for our fans, bad for our players and bad for our clubs,” Manfred said. “I want to assure our fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party.”
“The calendar dictates that we’re not going to be able to play the first two series of the regular season, and those games are officially cancelled,” Manfred added.
MLB's last, best proposal included increases in minimum salaries to $700,000 per season, a pre-arbitration bonus pool of $30 million, suggested solutions to service time manipulation, the implementation of a five-team draft lottery and a universal designated hitter among other changes.
However, the competitive balance tax, which many agents consider a soft salary cap, did not move enough for the players' liking. While revenues have steadily climbed decade by decade, the CBT has not risen in proportion to those increases. As such, the players sought an increase in the CBT to $245 million and later to $238 million.
Meanwhile, the owners offered to increase the CBT to $220 million for 2022-24, $224 million in 2025 and $230 million in 2026. From the players’ standpoint, those changes were not substantial enough to justify accepting considering the increases averaged just 1.84 per cent per year – below the rate of inflation.
The league imposed a deadline of 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, saying that games would be missed with no chance of recovered salaries or games after that point. The players have given the league indications that they would take expanded playoffs off the table under those circumstances.
Previously, the sides had agreed to proceed with a 12-team playoff field. Under MLB’s latest proposal, the top two teams in each league would have gotten byes with the remaining four teams per league facing off.
From here, the sides are likely to return home and regroup. Manfred suggested Tuesday that he believes it’s on the players to make the next proposal.
“You draw your own conclusion as to who ought to go next,” he said.
Whether players view things similarly is another question. Some voiced frustration Tuesday after an MLB official publicly suggested players changed their tone from Monday to Tuesday.
“MLB has pumped to the media last night & today that there’s momentum toward a deal,” Giants left-hander Alex Wood tweeted. “Now saying the players tone has changed. So if a deal isn’t done today it’s our fault. This isn’t a coincidence. We’ve had the same tone all along. We just want a fair deal to play ball.”
Despite the current acrimony, the two sides will eventually have to return to the bargaining table and discuss next steps. In the meantime, the league will lose games, revenue and cultural significance while risking the ire of fans and players alike.