The Major League Baseball owners and players have 27 days to negotiate a new Basic Agreement. If they don’t by Dec. 1, the consequences may be dire. A lockout by the owners could freeze the free agent market until a new deal is in place. Even the start of spring training in February could be jeopardized.
To call the pace of collective bargaining glacial would be an insult to glaciers everywhere.
There have been talks since April, but no reported movement on the economic and structural issues that are the key to how the sport will be governed during the next five years.
“I think we’re strong,” Derek Schiller, the Braves’ president and chief executive said in an interview after the Game 6 victory Tuesday night. “Baseball has a tremendous following. We’ve got the right people working on this right now. And I think both sides will come together. But right now, we’re just focused on winning this World Series.”
In the aftermath of Atlanta’s 7-0 drubbing of the Astros on Houston’s own turf at Minute Maid Park, commissioner Rob Manfred said he didn’t want to talk about this past season’s economics or the labor situation.
He had just come off the platform, and while introducing and presenting the champion Braves with the World Series trophy where he was jeered by the fans. But that comes with the territory.
“Look, it was a great postseason. We got a great champion here,” Manfred said. “You couldn’t ask for a better season than 2021.”
The Braves won the fourth World Series in franchise history and their first since 1995. They did it to end a year that began with the death of icon Hank Aaron, whose famous No. 44 is cut into the center field grass at Truist Park.
The Braves came out of nowhere to win the National League East, and with 88 wins, had the fewest number of victories of any of the 10 playoff teams.
The San Francisco Giants had 107, the 2020 champion Los Angeles Dodgers had 106 and the Astros, 95. The latter two teams were eliminated by the Braves in the NL Championship Series and World Series.
“It feels surreal, and I would say it feels earned,” Schiller said. “And that makes it that much more special.”
MLB is coming off two seasons highly affected by COVID. Even during the World Series, the Astros had to place Jason Castro on the restricted list when he tested positive. Jorge Soler, the World Series MVP, missed most of the NLCS when he tested positive.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos tested positive and was not at the ballpark Tuesday to see the team he built win the World Series, a situation which wasn’t revealed until after the game.
John Smoltz, who pitched for the Braves when they last won the World Series—in six games over Cleveland in 1995—and is now a baseball analyst, expressed optimism that baseball’s recent travails could lead to some common ground between players and owners.
“I hope that seeing everything everyone has been through, through COVID, and the highest level of baseball this year, I hope that gets taken into consideration. The optimist in me says they’re going to work something out. I hope that it’s sooner rather than later.”
At issue is the way the revenue is distributed.
Players are focused on competitive balance, re-evaluating the amateur draft, paying younger impact players better, and having more teams involved in playoff races, among other significant issues.
There are some owners who still want a salary cap, and a floor, which has always been a non-starter for the players.
“The facts are the facts,” Smoltz said. “I hope the sport continues to grow and make some subtle changes. Unless rules change, the philosophies that are in place today will continue to happen. That’s up to the hierarchy to determine if that’s what they want.”
But as the Braves proved, it’s not how much a team spends on players, it’s how that money is spent.
The Dodgers had a Major League-record $267.2 million player payroll, $119.7 million more than the Braves, who were 12th at $147.5 million.
The Braves had only four players earning in excess of $10 million, with Freddie Freeman far and away the highest-paid, at $22.4 million. The first baseman is finishing an eight-year, $135 million contract with the Braves and now that the World Series has ended is a free agent.
Still, they won.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Schiller said. “No matter what happened badly, this team continued to step up. It’s a season where the team persevered through all of the things we survived to get here.”
These Braves had won their division four seasons in a row and went to the brink last year when they had a 3-1 lead in the NLCS, only to lose to the Dodgers in the Globe Life Field bubble. They lost their top player, Ronald Acuna Jr., to a torn right ACL right before this year’s All-Star break, but compensated by picking up Soler, Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson by the July 30 trade deadline. All had a major impact on their postseason run.
Even in the 1990s when Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux anchored the starting rotation, they lost the World Series four of the five times they played. All are now members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Chipper Jones, manager Bobby Cox and general manager John Schuerholz.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the ones we should have won,” Smoltz said.
Those Braves were expected to win. These Braves were expected to blow it and almost did it again, losing Game 5 Sunday night in Atlanta when they harbored another 3-1 lead.
“It just didn’t feel right last year at a neutral site. We didn’t have our fans there,” Schiller said. “We would have wanted to win it, but we didn’t. The fact is we turned it around and we made our way back. That’s analogous to the way the community did, too. They followed us and here we are. We gave them the championship.”