Silverman: Baseball owners wise to drop international draft demand – Boston Herald

They couldn’t . . . could they?

They wouldn’t be so greedy, so shortsighted, so, so . . . foolish — would they?

Who’s “they” you ask? The baseball owners and baseball players, the billionaires and the millionaires who are taking talks down to Thursday’s wire, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires.

That the sides have the potential to set in motion the first work stoppage in 22 years — the threat of a Major League Baseball lockout was reported recently by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and now, according to Buster Olney of ESPN, teams might not participate in next week’s winter meetings if there’s no new CBA — creates one of the most tone-deaf developments in the sport’s recent history.

The owners can be the heroes by backing away from an unnecessary sticking point.

According to multiple reports, the biggest holdup over the holiday weekend was that the owners wanted to adopt an international draft — a process that would substantially benefit the teams and reduce signing bonuses for future players — while the union, with considerable support from their Latin American contingent, is dead-set against it.

An encouraging sign popped up last night when Rosenthal reported owners backed down on the international draft as a condition to getting a deal done. Let’s hope the owners hold to that.

Without getting too bogged down in the details, all you need to know is that in exchange for this piece of profit, the owners would be willing to abolish the draft pick compensation piece that comes with qualifying offers, which has acted as a drag on players’ salaries. The players wanted this, of course, but not, so far at least, at the expense of an international draft.

Other issues on the table include raising the annual luxury-tax threshold from $189 million to approximately $200 million, a player-friendly change that’s essentially a cost-of-living hike, which would be nothing revolutionary. Same with perhaps raising the roster size to 26 or making the previous day’s starting pitcher ineligible in favor of a minor leaguer being called up.

These are tweaks, just like pace-of-game initiatives.

The international draft/compensation pick issue is a really big deal, important to each side, but this missive is not about weighing the pros and cons of each side.

The greater point is that the contentious nature of the struggle is a clear and eloquent shout that the idea is too radical for right now. It’s a stretch. The owners would like it, but they don’t need it, and the players are absolutely right to dig in their heels on the issue.

Rather than meet defiance with defiance and institute a lockout, the owners appear to have taken a deep breath, looked around, taken stock of the world around them and backed away from the draft.

There’s a considerable amount of goodwill right now in the sport, even though the sweet spot the Cubs put us all in with their World Series victory was shoved to the agate pages in the wake of the presidential election. And not to draw a direct line between baseball and what brought Donald Trump to a victory in the Electoral College vote, but it’s fair to point out the economic concerns of the middle class were a major driver in the election.

And while the nuts and bolts of this labor battle between the millionaires and billionaires is important to the future of the sport, it’s impossible to overlook how flush the sport is. MLB, according to Forbes, saw $500 million of growth in gross revenues last year, and the sport will approach $10 billion in revenues in 2017. Television viewership for the postseason was the best since 2001. The sport still skews too old, attendance is plateauing some, the games move too slowly and minority representation in the managerial jobs and front offices is too weak, but overall, baseball is in strong shape.

And that makes for a real bad look if a needless economic squabble takes center stage.

This is the first CBA for both commissioner Rob Manfred and union head Tony Clark. Neither wants to derail decades of labor peace so early in their tenures, which come at a time when a bold new look to a CBA is not warranted.

Stick, mainly, with the old one. Nobody will suffer.

If the owners came to understand there is no urgency to instituting an international draft, then good for them for applying the brakes to a train headed off the rails. They just might have averted a self-induced accident.

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