MLB’s Labor Talks Remain Stalled as Big Spending Dodgers Hang On

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According to Scott Boras, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the epitome of how a Major League Baseball franchise should be run, and baseball’s most powerful agent believes the league should implement a system that inspires more teams to act like them.

“The Dodgers are an example of good business,” Boras said Monday night at Dodger Stadium. “They’re successful. They’re making money. And they’re winning on the field. That’s what you want teams to do. You can never fault good business. You can never fault success. That should be the goal of every franchise.”

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The defending World Series champions are still alive after decisively taking a must-win Game 4 of a National League Division Series, 7-2, over the rival San Francisco Giants at home on Tuesday night.

The climactic Game 5 is Thursday night at Oracle Park in San Francisco and the winner will play the Atlanta Braves in the NL Championship Series beginning Saturday night.

If the Dodgers win, the series will open in Atlanta. If the Giants prevail it will start in San Francisco.

But churning in the background of this postseason are the slow-moving collective bargaining negotiations between the owners and the players. The current five-year agreement expires Dec. 1, so time is of the essence. There’s a real possibility the owners could lock out the players if a deal is not consummated by that date.

The players believe that the goal of some franchises is to play a losing season to obtain higher picks in the amateur draft rather than build a team to compete, Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer, a Boras client, recently said.

“Players as a whole are frustrated by the lack of competition around the sport,” Scherzer said. “We definitely want to see changes in that. When the league has fewer bad teams, when all these games matter, when pennant races are highly competitive, fans are engaged with that.”

In negotiations, the MLB Players Association would like to revamp the economic system so that younger players get paid a much higher salary. Players like Pete Alonso, Shohei Ohtani, Jake Cronenworth and Ronald Acuna are examples of the game’s greatest young impact players, but they’re at the lower end of the economic spectrum.

“[The owners] have to understand that while our game is thriving and revenue and franchise values keep rising, the fact of the matter is that investment in players by percentage is the same as it was in the mid-1990s,” Boras said.

The union also wants to alter the draft system, which can act as a disincentive to winning. Generally, the team with the worst record in the league is awarded the No. 1 pick in the annual draft. There’s no rule stopping the same team from repeatedly qualifying for that pick year after year.

Boras suggested a win threshold for every team to qualify.

“You have to have a certain level of record to get a top pick,” Boras said. “If you’re not competitive and you tank, you’re not going to get the benefit of the draft.”

A lottery, in which the five to 10 teams with the worst record that season earn the top picks through a draw, is also a possibility. The National Hockey League and National Basketball Association already successfully use that system.

Revenue sharing from large market teams also allow smaller market teams the ability to make ends meet.

The union has proposals on the table that address all these issues. The perception among the players is that their union was out-negotiated in the last collective bargaining for the current agreement, multiple sources say.

But this time they’ve brought in veteran labor lawyer Bruce Meyer to handle the negotiations.

“This time around there’s a lot of evidence that we didn’t have before,” Boras said. “From 1996 on, with revenue sharing, with the luxury tax, with the stated goals of parity, and with the assurances that teams would spend more money on players as revenue increased, the evidence is that it’s all been to the contrary.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, the union’s executive director, have agreed to remain silent about the state of the talks.

MLB and the union declined to comment about the negotiation and Boras’ statements when contacted Tuesday.

To be sure, Boras is still an individual agent, and he doesn’t speak for the union. But he’s certainly among a group of agents the MLBPA briefs periodically about the state of the negotiations, so he has a keen insight.

He also said he speaks constantly to the players he represents, including upcoming free agents Scherzer and Kris Bryant, of the San Francisco Giants, who both could be affected if there’s a lockout and all signings are frozen.

Despite efforts internally to spur talks during this month of the playoffs, Boras said they are currently in a lull.

“Normally during the playoff dynamic, they focus on the games,” he said. “I imagine in November during the general managers’ meetings, there will be continued efforts to talk. There’s nothing prohibiting them from talking. I’m sure they’re exchanging some thoughts and ideas. You’d certainly hope there’d be a lot of discussions.”

The Dodgers are one of baseball’s richest franchises and conduct their business accordingly. They are owned by Guggenheim Baseball Management. Its lead owner, Mark Walter, made his fortune operating a hedge fund that handles $500 billion worth of business.

They were bought from Frank McCourt in 2012 for $2.15 billion and are now worth $4.62 billion, third in baseball behind the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, according to Sportico’s most recent valuations.

The Dodgers far outspend the opposition with a record player payroll of $267.2 million, $67.2 million above this year’s luxury tax threshold of $210 million. They spent $103.3 million more than the Giants, at $163.9 million. The taxes and penalties Los Angeles has to pay as a result is just part of doing business.

And yet, the Giants have gone toe-to-toe with them all season, winning the NL West by a single game. Including the playoffs, the two teams have each won 109 games. Thursday night’s finale will be the 24th game between the two teams, and the Giants hold a 22-21 edge.

That’s how close it’s been. The rivalry is the best this season’s MLB has to offer. But the fact is, Boras believes that having 18 of 30 teams out of contention in the season’s final weeks is not good for the game.

His client Scherzer concurs, and an expanded playoff from 10 teams could be the answer. Of course, spreading the wealth with competent baseball decisions is the counter balance. Twelve franchises spent under $100 million in player payroll this season, some of them trying to bounce back from non-productive contracts they signed with players.

In that group, the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks each lost in excess of 100 games. The Miami Marlins lost 95. All have played poorly perennially in recent years. The Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers each won their divisions, while the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s were in the hunt for a Wild Card spot.

“There are some teams spending percentage-wise the same thing they were spending in 2004 and 2005, yet their revenues have tripled,” Boras said. “You have to understand that there has to be an adjustment.”