RONALD BLUM and STEPHEN Hawkins
IRVING, TX (AP). On Wednesday, the clock ticked down to the expiration of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement at 11:59 pm ET and the likely management lockout that ended the world of work sports in 9,740 days over 26 1/2 years.
After successfully reaching four consecutive agreements without interruption, players and owners appear to have taken a course of confrontation for over two years.
“A lockout looks like a very likely scenario,” pitcher Max Scherzer, a member of the union’s executive committee, said Wednesday after ending his contract with the New York Mets.
Management representatives left the union’s hotel about nine hours before the deal expired, and both sides said negotiations would not resume in the evening. Players said MLB did not make any new major economic proposals this week.
The union has demanded change in the wake of anger over lower wages, middle-class players ousted by teams focusing payroll on the rich, and veterans fired in favor of low-paid youth, especially among clubs who are tearing down their lists to recover.
“As players, we see this as a serious problem,” Scherzer said of the 2016 agreement. “First and foremost, we see the problem of competition and how teams behave due to certain rules that are within it, and therefore adjustments need to be made to bring competition to light.”
Management, in an effort to maintain the wage restrictions imposed in recent decades, rejected union requests for what teams saw as significant changes to the sport’s economic structure, including reduced service times required for free agency and wage arbitration.
Many clubs have struggled to add players ahead of the lockout and pending signing freeze, pledging more than $ 1.9 billion in new contracts, including a one-day record of over $ 1 billion on Wednesday.
“It felt like at least certain free agent groups were moving faster in the past few days,” said Pittsburgh general manager Ben Cherington.
Two of the eight members of the union’s executive subcommittee signed major deals: Texas fielder Marcus Semien ($ 175 million) and Scherzer ($ 130 million).
“It’s really fun,” Scherzer said. “I’m a fan of the game, and seeing everyone sign up right now, really seeing teams compete in such a timely manner, it’s great because we’ve seen freezes in the last few off-seasons.”
Much has changed since the 232-day strike that ended the 1994 season, led to the first World Series cancellation in 90 years, and forced the 1995 season to start late. That halt only ended when a federal judge – future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor – issued an injunction, forcing the owners to reinstate the rules of work under an expired employment contract.
Average wages fell from $ 1.17 million before the strike to $ 1.11 million, but then resumed their seemingly inexorable rise. It peaked at just under $ 4.1 million in 2017, the first season of the last CBA, but is likely to drop to around $ 3.7 million when this year’s final numbers are calculated.
This money is mainly concentrated at the top of the wage structure. Among the roughly 1,955 players who signed to major leagues at any time during the last month of the regular season, 112 have earned $ 10 million or more this year as of August 31, of which 40 have earned at least $ 20 million, including a prorated share of subscriptions. bonuses. …
There were 1,397 players with less than $ 1 million in income, of which 1,271 were under $ 600,000 and 332 were under $ 100,000, a group of younger players running back and forth with minors.
Union chief Tony Clarke, a former All-Star first baseman who became chief executive after Michael Weiner’s death in 2013, said the players are united and understand the need to stick together to achieve common goals. The parties are still in litigation over the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, considering how long the season could be, and are taking their positions before a neutral arbiter.
The union withholds license money, as is usually the case in negotiations; cash, US Treasury securities and investments were $ 178.5 million as of December 31, according to a financial disclosure form filed with the US Department of Labor.
“We have a nice military chest of money that we can allocate to the players,” said Scherzer.
Some players’ agents have suggested that management’s credit lines may already be under pressure from the revenue deprivation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but club finances are more opaque to the public than union finances, making it difficult to determine comparative financial soundness to withstand long-term employment. stop.
Rob Manfred, who succeeded Bud Selig as Commissioner in 2015 after a quarter century as MLB’s labor negotiator, made it clear last month that management prefers an offseason lockout to a midseason strike.
“We have come this way. “We closed in 1989-90,” he said. “I don’t think 94 was too good for anyone. I think if you look at other sports, you will see that the pattern is to control the timing of a labor dispute and try to minimize the likelihood of actually breaking the season. That’s what it is about. This avoids damage to the season. ”
Scott Boras, who negotiated the Scherzer deal and terminated Corey Seeger’s $ 325 million deal with Texas, insisted the union push for changes to reduce the incentive to cut jobs during the recovery.
“Sometimes the rules of the game require them to do things that are not in the interest of the game,” Boras said. “For them to become stronger opponents next year, they have to do what the rules tell them to do. make.”
Bloom reported from New York and Hawkins from Irving, Texas.
AP Sports Review writer Will Graves contributed to this report.
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