In what would be a startling end to 21 years of labor peace in an industry worth at least $9 billion, Ken Rosenthal, of Fox Sports, reports that Major League Baseball owners might lock out the players if they can't agree on a new collective bargaining agreement before December 1st. That's December 1st, as in a week from Thursday. Oh, great, as if 2016 weren't already, like, the worst year ever.
Does this potential impasse come as a surprise? Well, it should, given that less than a week ago the same Ken Rosenthal was writing about CBA negotiations and how the players and owners were discussing the addition of a 26th player to regular-season rosters for 2017. No matter your opinion on a hypothetical 26th player—why it might be a designated spot for another fucking relief pitcher, or how there might be a trade-off with September roster expansion—these are relatively minor issues. More notable is how the owners and players were casually leaking details a week ago that made it seem like the CBA negotiations were going along fine, even benignly, and now, all of a sudden, there's going to be a lockout in a week. Maybe. What the hell?
This is probably just a blustering negotiating tactic, because that's what management and labor sometimes do in the press when there's some entropy at the table. Of course, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says no, that's not what his side is doing at all.
"We don't negotiate in the press," Manfred told Fox Sports. "We remain committed to the idea that we're going to make an agreement before expiration."
Except somebody is negotiating in the press, hence Rosenthal's story about how the owners are threatening a lockout. It's possible the owners are trying to test union head Tony Clark, who is experiencing his first CBA rodeo as point man. In the past, player leaders have been Michael Weiner, Don Fehr, or Marvin Miller—all lawyers. As Rosenthal notes, Manfred is bargaining for the first time as commissioner, but he was the lead negotiator on three CBAs for Bud Selig.
It could be testing the leadership, it could be old-fashioned negotiating tactics, or it could be something more sinister, as White Sox blogger Frank Firke notes:
Interesting hypothesis, Clown. Setting aside for a moment that Firke is joking, or half-joking at least, look at Jerry Reinsdorf's notorious labor history. The 1994 season was wiped out with Reinsdorf's White Sox in first place—probably the best team he's ever had—because Reinsdorf and other hardliners, wanting to break the union, forced the players into striking.
This time, it's a little different. The White Sox are somewhere between mediocre and terrible, and reportedly are angling to deal Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, and anyone else of a certain age who is not nailed down. Whatever they do this off-season, it is hard to envision them making another serious run at the Commissioner's Trophy like in 2005. Reinsdorf turns 81 in February. He's already won a World Series. Why not take one last crack at the one that got away? Why not try and break the union, or at least hand it some kind of defeat, one last time?
Consider also that Reinsdorf led the group of owners who were opposed to Manfred becoming Selig's replacement, or who at least didn't want it rubber-stamped. Manfred certainly doesn't want a work stoppage resulting from an impasse in his first CBA as commissioner. This could be a way for Reinsdorf to remind the commissioner where his power comes from.
But that would be preposterous! Probably. Right?