Over the past couple months, the baseball hot stove has been colder than the proverbial iceberg. Multiple factors have led to just as many arguments on baseball Twitter, not to mention the developing standoff between the players and MLB. The standoff thus far is focused on the immediate topic at hand of pace of play, but could eventually snowball into a huge fight when the next collective bargaining negotiations occur in a few short years.
By now we have probably been dreaming about adding a top tier pitcher like Yu Darvish for about as long as the 2017 season has been over. It’s no secret that the past couple CBA negotiations have taken leverage away from the players, and both the players and the agents are taking notice while the front offices sit back and wait for the currently unemployed free agents to blink. Between incentivizing teams tanking for the draft and levying severe penalties for going over the luxury tax threshold, the pendulum has swung solidly towards ownership and front offices while hanging players out to dry. I do like the idea of tying high draft picks to the wild cards, although I may consider a modification to still allow the worst team to get the top pick for competitive balance while rewarding teams that genuinely try to contend. But that isn’t happening now, which has everyone perplexed and a little bit angry, even the front offices that aren’t signing anyone right now.
I think the Cubs as currently constructed are a lot better than most other teams. I also agree with many other smart people that the team could be a whole lot better with another signing or two (hello Yu Darvish!) if the guys in charge would just open up the checkbook already. The thing is, with nobody else on the verge of making a deal, the Cubs can wait it out, which is what the system is allowing for right now. It does suck, because there isn’t any news, which means there isn’t as much excitement and way too much apprehension, and not that much to write about because next to nothing is happening.
The public relations battle may be difficult for the players to swing to their side. After all, the average salary in MLB (skewed a bit by the megadeals, but still pretty darned good all things considered) remains in the millions. It causes the average fan (you know, peasants like me) to approach this situation with a fair bit of cynicism, because many of us would do just about anything (within the confines of the law, of course) to earn that much money. It also doesn’t help that ticket prices and concessions are going up, which means fewer family trips to the park.
Danny Rockett is probably right that this is not a battle that the players can easily win, because of the major income disparity between the fans and even the greenest rookies. However, with the players now only getting less than 40% of the revenue pie (a pie that is worth billions, plural), we can see why the union can be displeased with the owners not parting with some of those billions for the work force. And while I too am frustrated that I can’t take my family to more than one game each season (now that the Cubs are good and all), if all things are equal, I’d prefer that my money goes towards the players. After all, I pay to see Kris Bryant play, not to make Tom Ricketts even richer (even though that’s kind of the point of him selling me that ticket, right?).
My biggest fear is that baseball might be at a crossroads. We know that the pace of play arguments are due to a lagging recruitment rate for younger fans. After more than twenty years, even with the rising revenues, the prevailing thought is that the sport still might not survive a major work stoppage. We are only a few decades from the predicted fall of baseball (I’m a nerd). Considering that Star Trek predicted the day the Apollo 11 spaceflight would take off, I’m actually dreading this potential eventuality. So my hope is that ownership and MLB will compromise with the players, who will also hopefully get some leadership that won’t capitulate on the big issues so easily.
Meanwhile, for like the eighth consecutive week, let’s hope the Cubs sign Yu Darvish within the next few days. But this time, just as with the pace of play thing, the clock is ticking since spring training starts soon.