What do the players really want in the MLB standoff?

And are they asking for the impossible?

Diving for cash.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

After baseball's owners went on a November spending bonanza, ostensibly signaling that the upcoming lockout of the players would be brief, very little has changed between the owners and the union. The two sides need to negotiate a new Comprehensive Bargaining Agreement (CBA) but have hardly spoken formally at all in more than two months. While MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred assured Thursday that Spring Training will start on time, it looks increasingly likely that the labor dispute is going to eat into the regular season schedule — or worse. Most concerning for fans is that the Major League Baseball Player's Association (MLBPA) does not appear to know whether it wants a bigger cut of the sport's revenue, or measures designed to make the on-field competition fairer.

The owners are largely satisfied with the status quo, leaving the MLBPA in the position of seeking much more substantial change than their counterparts across the table. Some of the terrain in this dispute is familiar, and progress has been made. The league has apparently agreed to a universal designated hitter rule and will eliminate the practice of attaching draft pick compensation for teams whose free agents sign with a different club. And the owners have implicitly acknowledged that "tanking" — deliberately putting a subpar team on the field to get a higher pick in the next draft — is a problem by acquiescing to some kind of NBA-style draft lottery. A compromise on raising the minimum player salary is well within reach.

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David Faris

David Faris is an associate professor of political science at Roosevelt University and the author of It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. He is a frequent contributor to Informed Comment, and his work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and Indy Week.