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September 3, 2002

Prospectus Roundtable

Strike's End

by Baseball Prospectus

[Just after midnight Eastern time Friday morning, the Prospectus staff starts discussing the coming agreement]

Derek Zumsteg: It appears that if the owners gave in right now, just said "sure, we'll take your last offer", they'd have won more in this negotiation than in any previous one since free agency. Why did the players move so far? Are they that afraid of the NLRB and implementation? Do they believe that if they give in this time, they'll be able to win it back in four years when it's apparent none of this did any good for competitive balance?

I'm baffled.

Keith Woolner: Maybe a large portion of the players on the bad teams actually believe that competitive imbalance is a problem, and want a system where they have a fair shot at the post-season?

DZ: That's what Jeff Brantley was arguing on Baseball Tonight, but if that's the case, why aren't the players holding out for some kind of guarantee that revenue sharing's going to go to payroll, like the matching funds idea, or that 'voucher' thing I heard the players proposed? Why give the owners, many of whom have previously shown they're most likely to pocket any money given them, a chance to drink from the firehose of revenue generated by the Yankees?

Joe Sheehan: If that's the case, the agreement that appears to be taking shape does them not a whit of good.

Not that I believe that's the rationale...

I believe that a confluence of events, not the least of which is the significant influence of team-run media in the process, has helped the owners win this round. The owners, led by Selig, did an outstanding job of staying on message throughout the process. That's been the signature difference between 2002 and past years, and it's what gets them the win that seems imminent.

They also got lucky; right or wrong--I lean towards the latter--September 11 and the general economic state of the nation are factors in this process.

Watching the reaction of baseball fans across the country the last few days, I'm embarrassed; Americans are petty, jealous, economically illiterate bitches.

This is the biggest owner victory since the Supremes shot down the Flood case.

DZ: The fans and the pollsters and all the columnists in the world don't sit down in the negotiations. Nor should they, because they're morons who would gladly sell the players out for the promise of $1 ticket prices.

The only people who went into the negotiations are the players and the owners, and the players gave and kept giving. People are saying what a great compromise this deal will be, but that's utterly false: the only side that gets anything out of what I'm hearing anywhere is the owners. If the owners managed to get concessions out of the players this time around, I can only believe next time they're already thinking with glee of what they're going to get away with. This is a historic and wounding defeat for the players, and they're taking a knee for no reason.

If nothing else, I hope MLBPA wakes the *&$# up and starts doing a better job spreading their message. If ceding public debate means Joe's right and they get creamed in negotiations, they better stop ceding public debate.

JS: Then why are the players proposing what they're currently proposing? The deal on the table lowers salaries and doesn't impact the distribution of wins. If not due to external pressure, why are they where they are in these negotiations?

If you have a better explanation, I'd love to hear it.

Greg Spira: I think this is the result of the last strike. Yes, the players "won" that strike--but both sides probably lost because interest in baseball was hurt by the strike. The owners did prove one thing--that they would not cave quickly in the face of a strike and would let Selig cancel a World Series. If the players strike, and it turns out to be a long strike, the players risk the overall pie being shrunk by more than they'll lose by making the concessions they have.

DZ: You know, I talked about this at work today when I got into (another) heated, long argument about the players against a contingent of "paid to play a game" people, and I was talking about the effects of striking on workers.

If you're making (um, conveniently) $52,000 a year and you have to strike for a 10% pay raise, you lose $1,000 a week against a possible annual gain of $5,200. After five weeks it's a wash, after six you're going to have to get more from the strike to even break even.

But I hadn't actually sat down and thought about what the concession/penalty equation might work out like in a player's strike. I imagine that for these guys that figuring how the payroll threshold in 2006 is going to affect the membership's salary against how much a strike hurts the current membership is a difficult and heated debate.

[Strike settlement is officially announced]

Jeff Bower: I think it's clearly due to external pressure.

As Joe said, the owners have done a great job of staying on message, even if/though it's blatantly false.

The players, on the other hand, have done a poor job of trying to educate the fan. Their side is more complex to detail and explain accurately, and they can't follow the owners' lead of lying since they can't hide their books. The union probably felt it was a losing battle to try to get their message across, and given the intelligence of Joe Six-pack, they may well be right.

The MLBPA was backed into a corner by the owners. The owners' preemptive strike of saying that they wouldn't lock out the players during the season cost the owners nothing at the bargaining table, since they weren't going to do that anyhow. However, the owners wouldn't agree to anything that would keep them from unilaterally implementing a package after the season. This forced the players to use their only weapon--the threat of an in-season strike. A strike stops the games from being played, which is the only thing the average fan cares about. Thus, players are perceived as the ones keeping the games from being played.

Also, the players are no doubt tired of the constant ration of @#^* they've been getting from the fans recently. They are the public figures available for badgering every night, so they take the brunt of fandom's anger. Meanwhile, ownership can simply stay out of the public eye and avoid the crossfire since the public is a helluva lot less like to start an educated letter-writing campaign to the owners than to verbally harass the players when they take the field.

Jonah Keri: You end up feeling emptier after the situation gets resolved than when it started. Months of venom and posturing on all sides, BP spills tens of thousands of words trying to educate, and the end result is richer owners and no more hope for the small-revenue teams.

Count me as one who thinks the players are right and MLB needs revenue-sharing (albeit a far different version than what currently exists). So by my count that's 0-2 with two 3-pitch Ks. Blech... at least the Expos didn't get jobbed/job themselves this time, that's about all I can take out of this.

[Discussion shifts towards the aftermath]

DZ: We finally had a CBA negotiated without a work stoppage, and I would be willing to bet that none of the columnists across the country who wrote those awful "greedy players ruining the game" are going to admit how much those players gave up to avoid a strike.

JK: And while we're here, has anyone seen anything to the effect of teams being required or strongly encouraged to spend the increased revenue sharing windfalls on retaining top talent/hiring better talent evaluators/marketing the product/etc?

I'd really like to know, because I'm getting visions of "Claude Brochu Part II, Pohladian owners get even richer" something fierce.

Doug Pappas: I think 2006-07 will be very reminiscent of 1993-94. The new deal will reduce player salaries without improving competitive balance, and both the players and the high-revenue clubs will be awfully pissed about the amount of money flowing into the pockets of owners who aren't trying to compete.

DZ: I'm going to hope not. I think we'll see the Expos move somewhere favorable, get new ownership, and maybe Selig will use that huge war chest he built up for strike-breaking to get the Twins a new stadium deal and Pohlad will sell...

And maybe, with a new CBA in place, Selig will finally let some sane owners buy some teams.

JK: Oy. Doug's message was depressing enough without the reminder of 1994.

Was there any way, realistically, that the deal could have forced owners' hands in terms of investing in the product? Would it have made sense for MLBPA to push for such a clause or would that not really benefit them? We already know the Mooreses and Pohlads of the world would have a strong disincentive to remove their right to make as much bank as is humanly possible.

Seems to me the only thing that could possibly prompt revenue-sharing subsidized owners to spend would be to open the gates for guys like Mark Cuban, who'd actually want to build a winner. Of course now that the weak sisters just trapped into a giant gravy train, what possible incentive could they possibly have for selling their cash cows, MLB's ardent opposition to the Cubans aside?

I'm hoping for "sane" owners too, Derek, but wouldn't the next logical step for the owners be to slap a hard cap down in 4 years, a step toward which they moved much closer this time around? If so, they'd need to hold tight to their same poor-mouthing refrain, something a guy like Cuban wouldn't tolerate.

DZ: Hope isn't necessarily logical. You, as an Expos fan, should understand this as well as anyone.

Maybe Selig will resign, too, and we'll get someone in who can at least be reasonable. Or Selig will become reasonable.

JK: Talk about hoping for impossibilities. Joe nailed it by saying an end to anti-marketing would seem to be the only positive offshoot of all this, but I still maintain as we get closer to 2006, the owners will anti-market more than ever before, knowing they're so close to moving from huge profits to absolutely obscene profits if they can get the hard cap they so desperately want.

Blech, get some games on fast before I forget why I care so damn much about this damn game in the first place.

JS: I'm calling it now: we lose the 2008 season.

I should be happier about this, but as far as I can tell, this deal is close to the mid-market owners' wet dream, and doesn't do a damn thing for the game itself. The upside comes if and only if MLB stops the anti-marketing in the wake of a deal.

I would really love to hear Fehr/Orza's explanation for this. It's none of our business what the players do, but I'm genuinely curious as to how they ended up so far from their starting points.

DZ: Rob Neyer said in chat just now that he thinks that revenue sharing will help payroll, because most owners "will spend what they can" on payroll. Is there any evidence of this? Did teams that started to receive revenue sharing in the last CBA increase their spending on payroll significantly?

JK: Payrolls of subsidized teams have come up since the last CBA, but I don't know that they've grown much in relation to annual income or other teams (have they?). In other words if the DRays pay out $50 million 5-7 years from now compared to $40 or whatever now, that's not really progress.

JS: We definitely need to see the distribution mechanism. The last had RS money going to low-payroll teams, which was the fatal flaw that gave us the Twins and Expos.

I don't believe that teams will spend money just because it's there, though, and if RS is based on actual revenue, there's a big zero-sum game in the lower and middle levels, and that's a disincentive to improve.

DZ: I love baseball. Why should I be a fan these next couple years? There's no reason I should trust Selig's going to stop anti-marketing, no reason to think revenue sharing is going to do anyone any good, Loria still owns a team, and I agree that 2006 will almost certainly be a brutal conflict that makes 1994-5 seem like a gentle shoulder massage by a supple young lass.

Here's what I've got: The M's have a bunch of really interesting dudes in the minors (local) The Expos might become a good, well-run franchise in DC/elsewhere There are some interesting GMs who might rebuild teams in interesting circumstance (Pirates, for instance, Blue Jays, the M's post-Gillick).

Chris Kahrl: My short list:

  • Teams like the A's, Astros, and Twins could make some noise in the postseason over the next couple of years.
  • The Padres, Cubs and Sox should field some interesting young teams in the next couple of years.
  • The Reds' outfield is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
  • Jeff Loria might be the first recorded victim in the forthcoming Fox special, "When Manatees Attack"

    "Mistaken for a limp piece of vegetable matter, the art dealer becomes a midday snack for the normally peaceful but now angry and violent swamp mammals..."

The Expos might move to Washington, but asking them to become a good, well-run franchise seems overly demanding. I'm just ready to fire up the "Washington Federals" campaign, so that I can start the "Los Federales" bleacher fan club, complete with red, white and blue sombreros.

JK: Though analytically speaking relocation beats contraction in a walk, as a fan, I think they'd both suck. I'll go to the grave convinced baseball can work in Montreal, just as it can in any existing market, given well-heeled, intelligent, committed ownership.

Chris, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Cubs found a way to botch all the young talent they have and blow their window, much the way the Chisox appear to be doing when a South Side AL Central dynasty seemed a foregone conclusion a year or two ago.

Doug Pappas: My prediction: MLB settles the RICO suit by buying the angry limited partners out of the Marlins and selling them the Expos. Then when Loria crashes and burns in Florida, the Marlins are sold and moved to DC.

Dave Pease: I don't buy that there's some overwhelming structural problem with any current major league market. In the big picture, this stuff turns on dimes. In ten years, if they play their cards right, the Expos could be like the Indians were in the late '90's or the Mariners are now. It'll take competent management, marketing, and sales, and a bit of luck won't hurt either, but the same can be said of life itself.

Related Content:  CBA,  Strike,  Revenue Sharing,  MLBPA

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