KC Royals: Why Sunday’s session shouldn’t surprise us

(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Against the ominous backdrop of an MLB lockout with no end in sight, representatives of the clubs and players met in New York Sunday for what a myriad of Internet reports say was over an hour. And when the session ended, the question of when the KC Royals and their 29 sister teams will play again remained unanswered.

But on the basis of Sunday alone, the lack of resolution shouldn’t be surprising.

After all, did anyone really expect the two sides to suddenly break through their mutual mess and forge a deal Sunday? Only seismic shifts in their postures and positions could have worked such a result.

And that didn’t happen.

Instead, the union reportedly presented a written response to the clubs’ previous proposals and made some adjustments to a smattering of their own. According to The Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes (Twitter thread), the players reduced by $5 million their previous $85 million demand to fund a new bonus pool for pre-arbitration players, and are willing to let MLB introduce larger bases, a pitch clock, and some kind of defensive shift ban in 2023 upon 45-days advance notice to the union.

The acquiescence to such rules changes as proposed is, of course, subject to the parties reaching a global agreement including it, and presumably getting a concession from the owners on something else. Nothing is set in stone until a global deal is reached.

But per Janes, the union also didn’t budge a bit on their proposal to increase Competitive Balance Tax thresholds, including to $238 million in the first year of a new deal. The owners seem to be as entrenched as the players—they offered $220 million in the doomed Tuesday proposal the union rejected, and at least four owners voted against that $220 million before it was offered, with others saying they’ll vote against any effort to go above that figure. The players also affirmed opposition to a 14-team postseason but are willing to bump the field to 12.

Where does that leave the situation?

KC Royals fans really shouldn’t be surprised by Sunday’s developments.

What happened Sunday isn’t earth-shattering. No one should have expected any significant movement—yes, reports surfaced suggesting the players were making a written proposal Sunday but, as The Atheltic’s Evan Drellich tweeted Saturday, it seemed clear they’d devote at least some of their document to reiterating and memorializing previous offers. That’s standard procedure, especially when previous fast-moving negotiations, such as those of last Monday and Tuesday, may not afford time for comprehensive written offers and responses.

Also possible is that the union is making sure all its positions, offers, and counteroffers are meticulously documented in case it elects at some point to file unfair labor practice charges against the clubs.  Technical, to be sure, but critical and not necessarily suggestive of any particular outcome.

And the minor chiseling of offers? Small incremental movement has been the way of these and other negotiations in other industries, a strategy sometimes employed to send a “If you won’t budge much, neither will we” message and an approach one side often ends with a big move toward the other. The sooner that happens the better; count on it happening.

MLB’s statement that things are now “deadlocked” also deserves careful scrutiny. Are the owners hinting they’re close to declaring impasse, which could, if the claim is valid, push this unsightly matter to the National Labor Relations Board or federal courts and an even lengthier delay of the season?

Perhaps, but the most effective way to exploit the impasse hammer is to simply use it. That the clubs haven’t declared impasse suggests they realize impasse hasn’t occurred yet, and a vote to approve declaring impasse can’t yet garner the required 23 affirmative votes. It seems unlikely that 23 owners, especially those in small markets like the KC Royals’ group, are willing to risk losing the entire season to the NLRB or judicial processes.

No, using “deadlocked” is probably more posturing, a practice at which both sides are adept. But posturing goes only so far until reality sets in.

And the prospect of lost games? The clubs already canceled the season’s first two series, and took a third set of spring games off the board Friday. Look for them to wipe away another regular season series or two early this week.

But, considering the lack of movement since the two sides left their Florida negotiating table late Tuesday, that was going to happen anyway.

Next. KC could snag a great outfielder in draft. dark

After Sunday’s meeting between owners and the union, the question of when we’ll see the Royals again still awaits an answer. The lack of progress isn’t surprising; an end to the lockout in the next few days would be.