Dodgers Dugout: Spring training starts, uh, sometime?

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during a news conference in Arlington, Texas.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and there still is no end in sight to the lockout.

To the surprise of no one, MLB announced last week that spring training games would be delayed until at least March 5. Games were supposed to begin Friday.

“We regret that, without a collective bargaining agreement in place, we must postpone the start of spring training games until no earlier than Saturday, March 5,” MLB said in a statement. “All 30 clubs are unified in their strong desire to bring players back to the field and fans back to the stands.“

The players’ union responded: “MLB announced today that it ‘must’ postpone the start of spring training games. This is false. Nothing requires the league to delay the start of spring training, much like nothing required the league’s decision to implement the lockout in the first place.”

And guess what? The bargaining committee for the players and owners have decided to start meeting in person. Negotiations have taken place mostly by videoconference, but there will be a face-to-face meeting Monday and, hopefully, every day this week.

If you bought tickets for spring training games that have been or will be canceled, MLB says, “The clubs have adopted a uniform policy that provides an option for full refunds for fans who have purchased tickets from the clubs to any spring training games that are not taking place.”


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The lockout began Dec. 2, and I say now what I said then: The two sides have to realize that delaying the regular season, or shortening the regular season, or canceling the season outright, would be a terrible mistake and would drive some fans away forever.

For the last two years, people have lost their jobs, lost their lives, been in isolation, worn masks, become angry at those who refused to wear masks (and vice versa) and generally had their lives changed in many ways. The last thing needed now is for baseball to decide to not play.

This labor negotiation is supposedly, from the players’ perspective, to get more money for younger players, who many feel are underpaid relative to their value. However, the players can talk until they are blue in the face, and many fans will still see it as “Billionaires vs. Millionaires.” And when one of the most public faces on the players’ side is Max Scherzer, who just before the lockout signed for three years, $130 million, all the players do is undermine their cause.

Then you remember Juan Soto turned down a 13-year, $350-million deal with Washington. It’s not a good look, and it doesn’t matter if the players are correct or not in everything they are asking for. In the real world, it’s not a good look. Why not bring out players who spent a year in the majors, were hurt, and never played again? Why not bring out players who are examples of what you are fighting for?

Judging from emails, the fans are on the side of no one in this, and will hold owners and players equally responsible if the season goes up in flames. So, the two sides are playing a dangerous game. I guess we should just be happy they are finally talking to each other in person.

But be clear about one thing: Some readers have emailed me to say they can’t believe the players have gone on strike. The players aren’t on strike, the owners have locked them out.

MLB’s recent proposal to the players made minimal changes: The league added $2 million a year to the competitive balance tax threshold in 2024, 2025 and 2026, increased its bonus pool for pre-arbitration players from $10 million to $15 million, offered two choices for a minimum-salary structure and added an opportunity for teams to earn two draft picks by cultivating high-achieving players who spend a full season on a team’s roster.

The players’ union removed its request for arbitration for all players with two-plus years of service, requesting instead 80% of players go into the system. Additionally, the union requested an increase in the pre-arbitration bonus pool from $100 million to $115 million.

I’m not a math major, but if the owners are offering $15 million, and the players want $115 million, that is a $100-million difference. And they are moving farther apart.

One of the players on the committee, Andrew Miller, said this to ESPN: “We’re in a lockout, which we don’t have to be. The owners have decided to use that as a form of leverage against us. We aren’t allowed in the facilities or can communicate [with coaches], so the lockout is a separate story, but we are negotiating [re: CBA]. Nobody has taken the ball and run home. Ideally, we get to a deal, but that portion [the lockout] of the situation is controlled by ownership.

“Our CBA is up. In some ways, a lot of it is financial, but we feel like we’ve been screaming this from the top of the rooftop, we have major concerns about the competition throughout the league. Tanking has become far too common of a term. There are all sorts of pieces. There’s major topics fans will understand and things are kind of behind the scenes. There are a lot of moving pieces.

“For example, service-time manipulation has come to the forefront. This hyper efficiency of teams trying to maximize everything instead of putting the best team on the field for the fans is a problem. It’s affecting a handful of players, but it’s not right for them to be manipulated.

“And there have been rebuilds in the past, but the cycles were much shorter. Teams are announcing it now, telling their fans that we’re not going to compete because we’ve all come to the realization that draft picks are valuable.”

In short, the two sides are far apart. I don’t want this newsletter to turn into an economics brief, so I’ll stop here, but this seems to be an important week.

In Dodgers news

Former Dodger Joc Pederson turned 30 last week, and Dodgers known to be in attendance at a surprise birthday party for him were Walker Buehler, Austin Barnes, AJ Pollock and former Dodger Andre Ethier. Head to Pollock’s Instagram page for photos of the festivities.

This is sadly what passes as Dodgers news during a lockout. But if the lockout continues into the season, I have some things up my sleeve that will bring us weekly newsletters until the lockout ends.

Stories you might have missed

Trevor Bauer accuser fights pitcher’s subpoena seeking her phone records

Spring training fueled Cactus League boom. Owners’ lockout puts it in jeopardy.

Clayton Kershaw returns favor, cheers friend Matthew Stafford during Super Bowl win

Kevin Malone went from running the Dodgers to fighting sex trafficking

And finally

The full “Biography” documentary on Jackie Robinson. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

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