A major battle is brewing on the baseball labor front, but it is possible Major League Baseball and its 30 owners will find a way to avoid an all-out war?
That’s the hope according to a new Associated Press report.
An anonymous AP source says league management has expressed a willingness to open up early labor negotiations that could lead to "significant economic changes" in the collective bargaining agreement. If all goes well, according to the report, the league is open to negotiating a reworked deal that would extend beyond the current CBA’s December 2021 expiration date.
There’s a lot to digest in this initial report, which to this point has not been confirmed. But it’s interesting to consider why MLB might be willing to go this route, or at least float the idea that they’re open to negotiating. It’s also interesting to consider how the MLBPA might respond if approached.
Why MLB might consider reopening CBA talks
The owners know a storm is coming.
MLB has enjoyed labor peace since 1994, but the growing discontent from the players after a second consecutive winter of slow-moving free agent negotiations and the concerns over the increasing number of teams showing a lack of urgency to field a winning team, has the union itching for a fight.
The longer that animosity builds, the more likely it is there will be a work stoppage in 2021, or even before. The owners are very much aware of where the blame will fall if or when that occurs. As such, the owners might feel like this tactic is necessary to help dispel some of the criticism or “negativity,” as MLB commissioner Rob Manfred termed it, that has been directed toward them.
The thinking might be that even if negotiations go nowhere, Manfred and the owners could argue that an effort was made to fix what everyone else says is broken. Good PR, to put it simply.
That sounds good on the surface. However, given how friendly the current CBA is to the owners, many are already questioning just how much incentive they would have to negotiate in good faith. That could undermine any potential efforts, well-intentioned or otherwise, from the beginning.
Why the MLBPA might not be willing to engage
The union undoubtedly has the same concerns others do. If there’s any feeling the efforts of Manfred and the owners are not genuine, there’s no reason for them to come to the table.
There are major issues in play on the union side. While the league is more focused on making changes to the on-field product, the union is focused on making sure the players are given a fair shake financially. In addition to concerns over a depressed free agent market and lower salaries despite larger league profits, the union will also seek changes to pre-arbitration service time rules that many teams are clearly manipulating in order to save money and gain longer control over a player.
Those are not issues that will be resolved overnight. It’s going to take time to iron out the significant differences. The union will need assurances that the owners are committed to negotiating and finding common ground before putting any cards on the table.
Is an early resolution possible?
We could see some changes go through. The 20-second pitch clock, for example, is something the league could decide to push again if they’re not happy with pace-of-play this season. Whereas the union could push again for one single in-season trade deadline.
But unless the players force the owners hand with a walkout, it’s difficult to imagine the wide gap being adequately bridged before this battle comes to a head.
More from Yahoo Sports: