There’s bad blood between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association.
The sides exchanged statements condemning the other Friday, and neither offered new proposals, as MLB’s lockout forges on and collective bargaining agreement negotiations surrounding core economics are at a standstill.
At this point, spring training — scheduled to start Feb. 16 — will almost surely be delayed. The start of the regular season is at risk, too. To be ready for Opening Day on March 31, some players believe everyone needs to be in camp by March 1.
Right now, MLB and the MLBPA aren’t close to an agreement.
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“It’s unfortunate it’s taken this long,” former Detroit Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd, a free agent this offseason, told the Free Press on Saturday. “But we as the players union are ready and willing to negotiate to get baseball back as soon as we can.”
Although Boyd is no longer with the Tigers, the 31-year-old remains an MLBPA player representative for the team. He has been sharing union rep responsibilities with catcher Tucker Barnhart, a longtime rep for the Cincinnati Reds before a trade in November sent him to Detroit.
On Dec. 2, MLB instituted a lockout upon the expiration of the old collective bargaining agreement. The decision cut off all access and communication between teams and unionized players.
MLB has the power to lift its lockout, the only thing keeping players on 40-man rosters from arriving to spring training on time. The lockout also prohibits MLB free agents from signing contracts. Players do not get paid until the regular season starts, so they aren’t losing money yet.
A new CBA is not required to restart baseball activities.
If owners were to end the lockout before a labor agreement, the union could choose to strike, which would give the players more leverage than the owners. At this point in the lockout, the owners have the advantage.
Keep in mind: Lucrative television contracts, like the Tigers’ deal with Bally Sports Detroit (which is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group), a person with knowledge of the pact told the Free Press, have language that reduces financial payouts — revenue for MLB owners — when certain game-count thresholds are not met.
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“We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in his Dec. 2 letter to fans. “MLB is ready to work around the clock to meet that goal. I urge the Players Association to join us at the table.”
More than 40 days passed before MLB and the MLBPA met to exchange proposals about core economics, including disagreements on pay for pre-arbitration-eligible players (less than three years of service time), the minimum salary, the luxury tax, revenue sharing and alleged service time manipulation. Other key sticking points feature a possible amateur draft lottery and expanded postseason.
MLB and the MLBPA have met four times about core economic issues since the beginning of December, without significant progress.
“We want to get down there (for spring training) as soon as possible,” Boyd said. “We want baseball to start on time. We’re ready to negotiate right now. We’re ready to negotiate at all hours of the day to hash this thing out, figure it out and get a deal done at the bargaining table with MLB.”
The latest flop in the negotiations began Thursday, when MLB requested the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to assist the heated negotiations. The request was made two days after the union’s latest economic proposal. The MLBPA had been expecting a counterproposal from the owners.
On Friday, the union publicly declined the owners’ request for a mediator.
MLBPA’s statement: “Two months after implementing their lockout, and just two days after committing to Players that a counterproposal would be made, the owners refused to make a counter, and instead requested mediation. After consultation with our Executive Board, and taking into account a variety of factors, we have declined this request. The clearest path to a fair and timely agreement is to get back to the table. Players stand ready to negotiate.”
MLB’s statement in response: “Our goal is to have players on the field and fans in the ballparks for Spring Training and Opening Day. With camps scheduled to open in less than two weeks, it is time to get immediate assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help us work through our differences and break the deadlock. It is clear the most productive path forward would be the involvement of an impartial third party to help bridge gaps and facilitate an agreement. It is hard to understand why a party that wants to make an agreement would reject mediation from the federal agency specifically tasked with resolving these disputes, including many successes in professional sports. MLB remains committed to offering solutions at the table and reaching a fair agreement for both sides.”
Some players view MLB’s request for a mediator as a public relations ploy to make the MLBPA look bad. While Boyd wouldn’t speak on that allegation, he affirmed the union’s decision to reject a middleman. (During the 1994-95 MLB strike, a federal mediator failed to produce an agreement, but mediation helped resolve the NHL’s lockout in 2012-13.)
“It’s not what we want,” Boyd said. “We want to talk at the table. We don’t feel like that’s going to speed up negotiations. It’s only going to take longer. We’re ready to talk right now. We’ve been ready, and we’ll continue to be ready. The players are ready to be at the table and continue to talk. We’re ready to bargain.”
A chance to negotiate could come this week, as the owners’ quarterly meetings are set for Tuesday-Thursday in Orlando, Florida. The MLBPA plans be nearby in case of a bargaining session, according to USA TODAY Sports.
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Here’s how MLB players have reacted on Twitter, with several of them using the hashtag #AtTheTable to urge owners that the union is ready to negotiate without a mediator:
• New York Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer, MLBPA executive subcommittee member: “We don’t need mediation because what we are offering to MLB is fair for both sides: We want a system where threshold and penalties don’t function as caps, allows younger players to realize more of their market value, makes service time manipulation a thing of the past and eliminate tanking as a winning strategy.”
• Mets reliever Trevor May, speaking on Twitch live stream: “(Manfred) just doesn’t really think about the fan as a fan. He doesn’t really think about the players as people. He thinks about all of us as a dollar sign and he wants to move the pieces in order to maximize the number of dollar signs that go to his bosses.”
• San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Alex Wood: “It would probably take 2 weeks just for an “impartial” mediator to get caught up enough to proceed. They’d then use an already broken system/CBA as a guideline toward a new deal. Makes zero sense for anybody. Players are ready to make a fair/mutually beneficial deal!”
• New York Yankees starting pitcher Jameson Taillon: “If the goal is to get the players on the field ASAP-then why did it take 43 days after the lockout to even hear from MLB? Didn’t seem like a priority then! Why did we not get a counter proposal this week? It’s all extremely tired antics/optics.”
• Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver: “The players want to meet every day until a deal is done. The other side does not.”
• Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield: “Seems to me like in order to get a Collective Bargaining Agreement done, you need to bargain… players remain waiting. Based on the incredible annual revenue of the league, we feel players with 0-3 years of service should be better compensated. We want to fix the competitive balance so EVERY team’s focus is winning year after year. We want to fix service time manipulation.”
• Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger: “A significant part of Collective Bargaining is…actually bargaining.”
• Mariners reliever Paul Sewald: “We are looking for increased salaries for 0-3 year players on the minimum salary, more competitive integrity (ie. no repeated tanking in order to accumulate high draft picks), and to end service time manipulation so fans can see their young stars.”
This offseason, Boyd is a free agent and can’t sign until the MLB lockout ends. The Tigers sent the left-hander to the open market Nov. 30, when the organization decided not to tender him a contract for the upcoming season.
Before the lockout, his agent, Scott Boras, heard from several teams, including some from the West Coast, some from the East Coast and an American League Central rival. In early December, Boyd said he would be interested in a reunion with the Tigers.
“I know things will probably progress very, very quickly,” Boyd said. “At this time of year, usually, my wife, kids and me are in Lakeland, Florida, in our home and getting ready. That in itself is different. At the same time, it’s awesome to be here at home and be dialed with our routine here.
“We have newborn twins that are 3½ months old. Our daughter is going to preschool. My son is doing all his activities. It’s kind of bonus time. We’re not here usually. We’ll just enjoy it for what it is, and when the ball does drop, we’ll get going and adjust accordingly.”
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Part of Boyd’s routine is physical therapy at Athletic Training Institute and HIDEF Physical Therapy. His left elbow injury required flexor tendon surgery and is the reason the Tigers didn’t bring him back for 2022. He was projected to receive $7.3 million in salary arbitration, but the Tigers balked at that paycheck and cut him loose.
Boyd, who had a 3.89 ERA and 1.4 WAR (according to Fangraphs) in 15 starts last season, expects to start throwing bullpens in “those last couple weeks of late March” and thinks he will return to MLB games in early June. His most recent benchmark was throwing past 75 feet.
“Arm feels great, elbow feels better than it ever has,” Boyd said. “Because of where we’re at in the training, I’m able to push the needle a little bit more in terms of my body, just because I’m not trying to get into game shape just yet. I’m still trying to get stronger. I’m not on that bullpen schedule yet. That’s not going to happen for another month.”
A recovering Boyd could talk all day about his excitement to get back on the mound, but he has no plans to jump on Twitter and blast the owners via social media, as several veteran players have done. Still, this seven-year MLB vet believes Scherzer (and others) are doing the right thing by explaining their side of the story to the fans.
Could those online conversations influence the result? After all, this is the game’s first labor disruption in the age of widespread social media.
Boyd isn’t sure.
“With the day and age we’re in, I don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Boyd said. “But I think it’s unique, and I think it’s special that players get to put out their own opinion and get to put out what they want individually. I also think it’s very cool that you see all these individual opinions, but it’s very collective at the same time.
“The players stand very united. We, as a union, stand very united. Going forward in this, we’re ready to sit down at the table and continue to work this out so we can get a season started on time.”
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.