Baseball’s e-bargaining fueling standoff between MLB and players: Sherman

They don’t negotiate. This is e-mail bargaining. One side sends an offer, the other rejects it and makes a counter-proposal. All done electronically.

Perhaps this is how you find a date in 2020. But is this really how talks to restart the national pastime within a pandemic should be handled? Because this isn’t Tinder as much as a tinderbox of bad history, a legacy of ill feelings only being exacerbated and extended now.

The relationship between MLB and the union is so fraught with hostility and mistrust that they have essentially shut off their Zoom accounts. Apparently giving someone the silent treatment does not end in fifth grade. MLB sent its latest offer on Friday — 72 games at 70 percent pay with a chance to get it to 83 percent if the postseason concludes — made a Sunday deadline, the union almost certainly will reject, perhaps email another counter and, of course, there were no negotiations or plans for such.

Where the parties are loud is in accusing each other of essentially the same things:

1. Misinterpreting the March 26 agreement. The owners continue to say that the union understood and acknowledged back then that if games were played without fans the players would have to take less than their prorated pay. The union insists that MLB has failed to make a case for why the players should take less, why in bad times they have to subsidize the owners and why can’t they just follow the call for prorated pay from the March deal?

2. Wanting to get to an implemented season. The players say owners want that to pay as little as possible. Management says the union wants that so a multi-billion-dollar grievance could be launched claiming the owners did not negotiate in good faith to try to play as many games as possible.

3. Being pushed away from compromise by the most hawkish elements. Management sees powerful agent Scott Boras as a puppeteer orchestrating from offstage toward his personal agenda. The union believes there are at least a half-dozen owners who would prefer not to play at all this year and that faction is compelling Commissioner Rob Manfred to the fewest games possible to pay the least to players.

All of this fuels an unwillingness to negotiate and potentially provide fodder for the other side to score public relations points and/or make statements that could be used in grievances. It also — from what I could tell — has suffocated the normal back channel talks that create diplomacy and a pathway to an agreement.

That speaks to the lack of statesmen in the game. And it speaks to those who have been mediating forces in the past feeling cowed by the animosity on both sides and worrying that it could spill onto them. One agent suggested if you even hint at minor concessions to spur talks would you be opening yourself to have your clients poached by other agents who will portray you as weak and anti-union?

Against all of this you have on both sides the familiar super-egos, competing agendas and job preservation instincts that creates problems in tense labor battles. But this is even more complicated because:

–There is a collective bargaining agreement expiring after the 2021 season. Both sides actually see that as larger than restarting a game amid a pandemic. Neither party wants to betray weakness that they will come off hardline positions.

–There is the clock. MLB keeps lowering its offer from 82 games to 76 to now 72. Management insists it is not playing beyond Sept. 27. There is an inexorable march toward Manfred implementing a season at a number of games at which ownership is comfortable paying full proration. That could be as few as 48. At which point the union will file its grievance, perhaps large swaths of players will not show up to play and those who do will do so without much enthusiasm.

There is a pandemic. Just in case you have forgotten. And the case numbers are rising in places that are bad for restarting a season such as California, Texas and importantly the spring training hubs of Arizona and Florida. MLB makes its greatest portion of national TV money by completing the postseason, which is one reason it is adamant not to play the season beyond Sept. 27. Manfred has said that the league’s medical officials say the longer the season is, especially back toward cooler weather, the riskier staging games will become.

Of course, these being the non-negotiating negotiations, the union does not agree with that assessment. Its proposals have called for regular season games into October and a postseason into November.

The sides pretty much agree on nothing except to not talk to each other.

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