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MLB owners could reportedly vote to lock out players on Dec. 1

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With just over a week left in negotiations, there’s a sign that baseball might be in labor trouble after all.

World Series - Cleveland Indians v Chicago Cubs - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Baseball is, by most measures, an extremely healthy sport. Attendance has been on an upward trajectory for decades, new ballparks keep getting built, television and media deals are continually getting larger, and franchise values are higher than they’ve ever been. It would almost seem laughable to suggest that there could be a work stoppage right now.

Almost.

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the negotiations for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement aren’t going as swimmingly as hoped.

The owners will consider voting to lock out the players if the two sides cannot reach a new collective-bargaining agreement by the time the current deal expires on Dec. 1, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.

Before you head into your basement to rotate your canned goods and check the ammunition stocks, note the careful language. “Will consider voting” is much different than “are determined to” or “see no choice but to.” This is a sign that negotiations are getting testy, not that the decades of labor peace are doomed.

On the other hand, we should at least make sure the dates on the canned goods haven’t expired.

There are some obvious, serious issues to resolve. Rosenthal notes that draft-pick compensation and an international draft are the major hurdles, quoting a union source who hints that the players’ side isn’t excited about bargaining away the rights of international and amateur players. An international draft would severely limit the earning potential of amateurs, and the owners are reportedly offering the elimination of current draft-pick compensation in return.

As one person on the players’ side put it: “We aren’t giving them something that affects 30 percent of big leaguers and probably 50 percent of minor leaguers in exchange for something that affects less than 20 players every year, especially guys who are staring $17 million in the face.”

The MLBPA ostensibly protects its future members as much as its current ones, but concern for future members hasn’t been anything that’s prevented labor peace before. The union’s previous willingness to negotiate away the potential earnings of future minor leaguers, most of whom will never become MLBPA members, is probably the reason why the owners are comfortable asking for a straight exchange.

It’s hard to see the players risking a lockout for the rights of amateur players. That’s especially true when the money saved on those players would be partially redistributed to veterans in the free agent markets, in theory.

It also would be hard to believe the owners would exercise the nuclear option of a lock out, knowing the bad press and public relations poison would have financial repercussions. Not when the sport is this healthy. The players went on strike in 1994 because the owners didn’t believe baseball would survive without the kind of salary cap that has successfully and artificially suppressed salaries in the other major sports. They were wrong, but at least there was a whiff of self-preservation behind the decision.

So this is all probably just saber-rattling (SABR-rattling, too). A lockout here would like be business partners stabbing each other over the interior options of the new company car. Never underestimate the ability of wealthy people to set their money on fire because they can’t agree on how to share it, though. For the first time in a while, there’s something less than absolute labor peace in Major League Baseball.

We’re still at DEFCON 4, though, and there are several steps to go. Don’t take your neighbor’s crops by force just yet.