On February 10th, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters that missing regular season games due to the league-implemented lockout would be “a disastrous outcome for this industry.” Fast forward to March 1st, and Manfred was laughing and smiling as he sat down in front of reporters again to announce the realization of that disaster. 

After a week of face-to-face negotiations with the players union, including a sixteen-hour marathon Monday night that convinced the league to push back its arbitrary deadline to save the regular season, Manfred confirmed that the league would be canceling the first two series of the season. It’s the first time an MLB season has been shortened due to a labor dispute since 1994-1995. That was the year when the World Series was canceled and the ‘95 season was shortened to 144 games. It is not an exaggeration to say that morale around players and fans alike is actually worse now. 

And MLB has no one to blame but themselves.

Scorched earth

MLB and its owners have reinvented the phrase “negotiating in bad faith.” They have hardly moved an inch with any of their offers to the players union. Their so-called “best and final offer” was quickly rejected Tuesday night. It was an almost identical version of the financial structure in the CBA that just expired, albeit with minor cost of living adjustments. After the negotiations ended earlier this week, it became abundantly clear that the progress supposedly made Monday night was an ownership smokescreen. The goal was to put the onus on the players to save Opening Day in the public eye.

Never mind the fact the arbitrary deadline was set by the league. Or the fact that the league waited 43 days into the lockout to send their first proposal. With this pathetic attempt at PR, the owners can throw their hands up and claim the players are being unreasonable, despite themselves not budging on most issues while the players are the only ones making concessions. 

The owners have shown no desire to negotiate. Instead, they would rather burn the sport down in order to preserve their presumptive future billions. And that’s what we’re talking about: billions. Despite the owners and the league crying to anyone who would listen that baseball teams are not profitable ventures, the value of the 30 teams has exploded over $40 billion in the last decade.

The myth of the Luxury Tax

For anyone who follows closely enough, none of this is a surprise. For much of the past decade, teams have been selling off star talent for pennies on the dollar and blowing up competitive teams all for the sake of “financial flexibility.” This is despite the record revenues and enormous television deals that have flooded the sport with obscene amounts of cash that has been shared by all 30 teams. 

The competitive balance tax, put into place in theory to stop runaway spending by teams like the Yankees, has acted as a salary cap in all but name. But the coup the CBT provides for owners is that it isn’t technically a cap, meaning there is no floor. They are free to spend as little as they desire and have built in excuses for not spending. Winning is now secondary to winning while saving money. As an added insult, the CBT has only grown 18% over the time league-wide revenue has grown by 40%. 

Most minimum of minimums 

The players are determined to get a fair share of the billions their talent generates. Of course, we have seen some of the largest contracts in sports history handed out to baseball players in recent years. However, that is not the issue here. The stars will always get paid. The issue is that despite the massive revenue, MLB has the lowest minimum salary of the four major North American sports.


Minimum Salary

NBA $925.3k
NHL $750k
NFL $660k
MLB $570.5k

However, those other leagues have actual salary caps and salary floors. Also, the majority of those players actually don’t make the minimum, whereas in MLB they do, with a little over 63% making the minimum in 2019. Moreover, players who enter those leagues are paid right away. Baseball players have to toil in the minors for years making even lower salaries before having a shot at the big leagues. A player who is ready for the call may even see his service time manipulated in a method made famous by the Chicago Cubs with Kris Bryant. This method allows teams to steal an extra year of service from a player, meaning it takes even longer for him to reach free agency. 

Does anyone care?

Manfred and the owners have made it perfectly clear they are willing to sacrifice parts of the season to crush the will of the players. Why wouldn’t they? With games being canceled, that means the owners don’t have to pay the players their full salaries. Sure, the owners will take a hit. But it’s a calculated risk to ensure they continue to hoard the future revenue for themselves. They don’t care that a potential new generation of fans won’t be falling in love with the game on Opening Day. They don’t care that their actions are being almost universally condemned by everyone involved in the game. The health and growth of the game is not a priority. All that matters is to preserve the status quo and the illusion of teams being non-profitable while raking in billions. Besides, who cares about a “hunk of metal” anyway?