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Rading the survey of 23 player agents conducted by The Athletic, I was first struck at how comprehensively the responses covered the spectrum of Tony La Russa’s return to the dugout. The field broke down into 11 predictions of success, 10 predictions of failure, and two wouldn’t hazard a guess.
For the success column, the White Sox will be good regardless of the manager, and perhaps La Russa’s autonomy will enable some pleasing strategical and stylistic differences to emerge. As for the failures:
*“There’s not just a disconnect with the players, but a disconnect with the philosophy of the front office. The only one he’s on the same page with is Jerry.”
*“We are going to see socially aware players like Tim Anderson (and) this incredible, diverse front office and you have the largest display of white privilege in the world (as manager). It’s a nightmare waiting to happen.”
*“It’s going to be a shitshow.”
That’s basically captured the La Russa landscape prior to the DUI charge and reckless driving conviction. The lack of a straightforward organizational hierarchy is the biggest danger to me, because warring loyalties caused the Ozzie Guillen era to collapse into a pile of rubble 10 years ago, and one could argue that the White Sox still can’t claim full recovery. Perhaps you remember the flow chart from 2011.
But the bigger topic the survey addresses is the state of labor. A majority of the agents thinks the game can avoid a labor stoppage (14-8), but not because of any encouraging developments. The salary structure still needs massive revision, and the MLBPA is still taking a defensive stance with Bruce Meyer. It’s more that with two pandemic-altered seasons, neither side stands to benefit from a third compromised year.
But the proceedings aren’t quite gliding along in the meantime. The MLBPA rejected MLB’s proposal trading an expanded postseason for universal DH without a counterproposal. The Cactus League asked MLB to delay spring training due to Maricopa County’s infection rate, but the MLBPA suggested the league was behind it as an attempt to delay the season. Whatever the motive, the players still know they hold the upper hand and stated so, and the Cactus League had no other response but to say it’d be ready for host games on schedule.
Ken Rosenthal suggested a compromise — a delayed spring training, followed by a condensed 154-game season that still ends the postseason in a manner that pleases TV partners. That’s all well and good, but “compromise” seems to be in the vocabulary of neither side.
Regarding the general air of intransigence, one part of Rosenthal’s notebook jumped out to me:
In addition to adopting the universal DH, the league offered to resolve two service-time grievances from last season in the union’s favor.
We’ve talked about service-time manipulation plenty around these parts. My stance is that teams shouldn’t be encouraged to deal in bad faith just because they aren’t punished for doing so. The response for fans who are more concerned about the seventh year of team control than rewarding players on time is generally along the lines of, “Well, I guess the union should’ve negotiated better.”
Here’s a case where the MLBPA holds the upper hand. Major League Baseball has to play 162 games unless it’s impossible due to government orders, and the concurrence of other pro sports leagues renders such a claim null and void for the foreseeable future. It might make decent big-picture business sense for the union to make a concession like Rosenthal proposes. It’s a better idea for their public health responsibilities, it buys the league a little more time to put fans in the stands, and the money not made is a fraction of what both sides previously endured.
But after years of MLB wielding its negotiated gains without remorse, it’s not fair to expect the union to play nice when it finally holds a key card. Dealing in bad faith inspires no faith at best, so here we are.