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Analysis: Anger as much as money at center of broken talks

March 3, 2022 GMT
Locked gates are shown at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Atlanta. With owners and players unable to agree on a labor contract to replace the collective bargaining agreement that expired Dec. 1, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred followed through with his threat on Tuesday and canceled the first two series for each of the 30 major league teams. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Locked gates are shown at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Atlanta. With owners and players unable to agree on a labor contract to replace the collective bargaining agreement that expired Dec. 1, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred followed through with his threat on Tuesday and canceled the first two series for each of the 30 major league teams. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Locked gates are shown at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Atlanta. With owners and players unable to agree on a labor contract to replace the collective bargaining agreement that expired Dec. 1, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred followed through with his threat on Tuesday and canceled the first two series for each of the 30 major league teams. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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Locked gates are shown at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Atlanta. With owners and players unable to agree on a labor contract to replace the collective bargaining agreement that expired Dec. 1, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred followed through with his threat on Tuesday and canceled the first two series for each of the 30 major league teams. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
1 of 3
Locked gates are shown at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Atlanta. With owners and players unable to agree on a labor contract to replace the collective bargaining agreement that expired Dec. 1, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred followed through with his threat on Tuesday and canceled the first two series for each of the 30 major league teams. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Anger is at the center of Major League Baseball’s broken labor negotiations as much as money.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred’s cancellation of each team’s first two series is a byproduct of failed relationships in a fractured sport that can’t get out of its own way.

Negotiators headed home Wednesday after the breakdown at Manfred’s deadline for a deal to preserve opening day. It wasn’t clear when the sides will meet next.

“Instead of bargaining in good faith — MLB locked us out,” three-time MVP Mike Trout wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “Instead of negotiating for a fair deal — Rob canceled games.”

Meetings have been unproductive on many days, partly the nature of labor negotiations but exacerbated in baseball by mistrust and mindsets dwelling on the past at the same time they look forward.

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“A core of this negotiation’s to increase competition and there’s no way we’re leaving the table without something that does that,” said free-agent reliever Andrew Miller, one of the eight players supervising the union’s bargaining. “We’re not going to do anything to sacrifice this competition of the season. Anything that points towards mediocrity, that’s the antithesis of our game and what we’re about as players.”

Players are seething over management actions in recent years. The union’s grievances over Kris Bryant’s demotion to the minor leagues in 2015, against Miami, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay for not properly spending revenue sharing money and against MLB alleging the 2020 season was shorter than it should have been hover over negotiations like an unending storm.

The players’ association takes umbrage at management’s slow pace of bargaining once the lockout began Dec. 2, yet both sides have been excruciatingly measured in unveiling advanced bargaining positions after concluding the other was hanging back.

And both sides have made proposals designed to anger the other in response to a previous plan that caused fury.

During the late-February talks in Florida, one side called its own latest luxury tax proposal “intentionally lousy,” saying it was a mirror image of the other’s plan. It was the negotiating equivalent of a purpose pitch.

The players’ goal is to improve the bargaining agreement for those that follow.

“To the younger generation of baseball players, this is for you,” free agent first baseman Anthony Rizzo tweeted.

Union head Tony Clark, in criticizing MLB for locking out the players rather than risk a late-season strike, referred back to the shortened 60-game schedule of 2020.

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“You only get so many opening days,” he said. “If you’re an average major leaguer, you might see four of them. Having an opportunity to play as long as humanly possible and find yourself in a world where now for the second time in two years the schedule is shorter than it otherwise should have been or could have been is a problem.”

While there are many open issues, the three primary economic items are the luxury tax, the new pre-arbitration bonus pool and the minimum salary. Of those, the luxury tax threshold is the biggest, because it has a huge impact on how high a payroll the biggest spenders are willing to carry. That money often goes to free agent, whose salaries filter down to frame the level for players in arbitration.

When teams rebuilt and didn’t compete for titles in any given season, it angered players who accused them of tanking.

“It’s not just money. The money can be important in order to have the market operate in a functional way,” Miller said. “We’ve seen trends take advantage of maybe places in which a player did not receive as much as they’re contributing. As well as we have been screaming for years about competition issues.”

Seven of baseball’s eight work stoppages from 1972 to 1995 were over free agency, salary arbitration and fighting off a salary cap — all but the first, which was over the pension plan. Those fights were framed by a century of management control of players and owners’ inability to deal with the arbitrator’s decision that led to free agency.

Owners gained a degree of cost control in the 2011 and 2016 negotiations, which combined with advanced analytics has led to less robust free agent markets and changes in player demographics that caused the union to push for change during bargaining for a new contract.

Club behavior in the past five years and that impact on players have led to the lockout and MLB cancelling regular-season games for the first time in a generation. Thus far they can’t look ahead without looking back.

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