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OC Register: Alexander: Don’t buy tickets for baseball opening day yet

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The world according to Jim:

• I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect that the lockout that MLB called Thursday will not end soon, and possibly not by the projected March 31 opening of the 2022 season.

The storm clouds have been apparent for more than a year. The angry rhetoric between management and players on the eve of the 2020 pandemic-shortened schedule – a schedule unilaterally implemented by commissioner Rob Manfred after sparring on financial terms, length of schedule, and just about everything else – was the tipoff that “labor peace,” if there has been such a thing, was about to end. …

• And before accepting the common notion that the game has enjoyed uninterrupted “labor peace” since the 1994 strike that wiped out the World Series, a brief history lesson: On August 30, 2002, owners and players came to an agreement a day before the players were to walk out. Angel fans, at least, should be eternally grateful.)

• Don’t be fooled. It’s all about the money. Management has won significant concessions from players in the past couple of collective bargaining agreements, and it’s worth noting that as the sport’s overall revenues climbed every year to a record $10.3 billion in 2019, the talent’s share of those revenues decreased.

And here’s a reminder: We don’t go to the ballpark to watch the owners. …

• The free-agent frenzy before the lockout deadline may have been a smokescreen. Yes, 76 players signed nearly $2 billion worth of contracts in November according to the mlbtraderumors.com free-agent tracker, more than $1.4 billion in the five days before the unofficial deadline alone. But six of those were nine-figure deals to star players. The average annual value of all of those contracts: $8.53 million, meaning there were a lot of one-year bargain-basement deals.

When the lockout ends – whenever that might be – exactly 200 free agents will still be unsigned. That includes big names like Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Trevor Story and longtime Dodgers Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen. It includes many more players who will be scrambling for one-year contracts. Remember that when you start to grouse that the billionaires who own teams are paying players too much. …

• Here’s a suggested compromise on the economic issues, keeping in mind that right now the owners and players are in about as much of a compromising mood as Congress: Keep free agency at six years of big-league service. Move arbitration back to two years, and make a certain number of games played the determination rather than days on a roster. (I think 70 is a nice, round number.) If you must, keep the luxury tax where it is, but create a salary floor of $100 million to force teams that receive revenue-sharing money to spend it on talent.

Then start working on making the game itself better. …

• And isn’t it interesting that we found out just before lockout day that MLB secretly used two different types of baseballs during the 2021 season, mixing older, livelier balls with the new ones intended to make home runs rarer. All this time, we thought Spider Tack was the biggest issue. …

• As for tanking: According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, 10 of MLB’s 30 teams have projected opening-day 2022 payrolls less than $100 million, and two – Pittsburgh, at an appalling $34.4 million and Baltimore at a miserable $37 million – will spend less than the $43 million Max Scherzer will get from the Mets. The aptly renamed Cleveland Guardians – guarding the vault, maybe – will be just above Scherzer’s salary at $46.6 million. …

• Another issue: Minor leaguers already lost a full year of development in 2020, and prospects on 40-man rosters – as well as injured players, such as the Dodgers’ Dustin May – will not have access to major-league facilities or staff during the lockout. The longer this stoppage goes, the more arrested their development becomes. …

• Now that Women’s Tennis Association CEO Steve Simon has pulled the circuit’s events out of China because of concerns over the safety of Peng Shuai, showing the type of spine we never see from the International Olympic Committee, maybe it’s time for the rest of us to take a quiet stand. There will not be an athletes’ boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, nor will there be an advertisers’ boycott, but why shouldn’t there be a viewers’ boycott? …

• Subject line in the inbox this week: “Sports fans prop up U.S. pay-TV.” The story, from a publication called RapidTVNews: Research firm MoffettNathanson, noting that the cable TV bundling model continues to rapidly shed customers, cites the loyalty of sports fans as the only thing keeping it from imploding, citing “53 million US households who described themselves as regular sports (fans) and new viewers who support bundles.

In a related development, there are rumbles that Sinclair Broadcasting’s Bally Sports regional networks, purchased from Fox in August 2019 for $9.6 billion, may be headed for bankruptcy as early as next year. The turbulence may only be beginning, and all sports consumers will feel it. …

• Just when the NCAA’s leaders thought they could take a deep breath after the Name/Image/Likeness compensation question had been decided for them last summer, now there is a new wave of “pay the players” sentiment in the halls of Congress and among the members of the Knight Commission, with its stated goal of intercollegiate athletics reform.

The reason? Head football coaches’ rising salaries, naturally. I guess the issue doesn’t become worthy of serious discussion until the bluebloods start raiding the bluebloods.


@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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