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A new Cardinals season starts with labor strife and a minor league ownership change

July 23, 2020 - The Cardinals have been playing in the current version of Busch Stadium since 2006.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Uncertainty surrounds the start of this baseball season at Busch Stadium as owners and players try to reach a new working agreement.

St. Louis Cardinals players are supposed to be in Jupiter, Fla., for spring training. But that is on hold. Major League Baseball owners continue to lock out the players as both try to hammer out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The labor strife comes as a new company has acquired 10 minor league teams, including the Cardinals Triple-A squad, the Memphis Redbirds. St. Louis Public Radio’s Wayne Pratt spoke with STLSportsPage.com Editor Rob Rains about the impact of the new ownership and whether the labor issue will reach into the regular season.

Wayne Pratt: What’s your take on the fact that the lockout is continuing?

Rob Rains: The owners and players, they don't necessarily care about the start of spring training. A lot of those guys are already down there just working out on their own. So until they actually have the threat that they're going to miss regular-season games, and that's when both the owners and players would start losing money, that's when we have to take this thing serious.

And I think as long as we're still in a window where you could have an agreement and have camps open by the first of March, which is basically right where we are now, I think it'll still be OK.

Pratt: Are you seeing any evidence of movement on either side?

Rains: There's a little bit. It's kind of like a nip and tuck kind of thing. It is like I moved $5 million, so the other side says I'll move $5 million, when they're already $100 million apart. That's the problem is nobody wants to move more than the other guy moves.

Pratt: Is there one issue that jumps out at you as the main sticking point?

Rains: The main thing that the players want is they want to find a way to get younger players more money earlier in their careers. Now, whether it's through a bonus system, whether it's through, you know, doing something different with arbitration, or what.

Rob Rains at Busch Stadium.
Rob Rains
Rob Rains covers the Cardinals for STLSportsPage.com. He covered the team for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and is a member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame.

But I think what they're finding out over the last few years is that I know a player's not going to get paid the first three or four years. You get started with arbitration, then he's gonna make a little more money. Then he gets to free agency, that's when he makes his big money.

But now you're finding out if a guy is not pretty much a star player, by the time he's 30 years old, they're just replacing him with a first- or second-year player that they don't have to pay much more than the minimum salary to.

There's enough money in the game that you can find a way to pay those first-, second-, third-year players more money and keep the system basically the way that it is. It's just going to matter how far will the owners come up and how much are the players union will come down, I think the last proposal I saw was the owners are willing to raise the minimum salary, like $615,000, and the players are still at 775. So you got to think there's room for a compromise somewhere in the middle there.

Pratt: Still staggering numbers when you just throw it out like that.

Rains: It is, but you got to take into account that you know, you got basically 10% of the players who make 90% of the money. And a lot of those players who make that salary, they're not going to have more than a three- or four-year career in the big leagues. So it is a lot of money. But you know, a team has a $200 million payroll for a season. It's not that big a number.

Pratt: I know owners don't like to open the books. But I think it's safe to say that revenue has been lost because of COVID. Do you think this adds any more incentive to get a deal done, so they don't get a double economic whammy so to speak?

Rains: I think it does. But then they want to have it be within reason. The problem is the owners are very happy with the system the way it is now. They don't really want to change anything.

And part of the persuasion for the players to change things is that they felt like they got a bad deal in the last CBA five years ago, and they don't want to do that again.

And the other thing that has changed for the most part is there's a lot more revenue streams now coming into baseball than there were five years ago. With streaming rights and digital marketing and all the online stuff that wasn't there five years ago, and it's now become big sources of income for teams. And the players just don't feel like they're getting their share of that income.

Pratt: Let's shift a bit here. Diamond Baseball Holdings has acquired 10 minor league teams, including the Cardinals Triple-A squad in Memphis. Help us put that into perspective. How much of a big deal is this?

Rains: I don't think it's that big. It’s potentially big for the minor league clubs that are involved because it gives them access to resources may be that they might not have before.

You know from the Cardinal standpoint in Memphis, one of the owners, the principal owners of Diamond Holdings, is also the same gentleman who owned the team before. It was just with a different organization. So the ownership of that team is not going to change. And the Cardinals still have a working arrangement with them — player development agreement. So I don't think anything from a fan standpoint you're really gonna notice any changes as far as Memphis is concerned.

Maybe some of the other clubs. You talk about the big-league clubs that are struggling for revenue. Don't forget you lost the whole minor league season in 2020, for all those minor league teams that didn't get to play at all.

Pratt: Diamond Baseball Holdings. It's owned by Endeavor, which also has UFC and the Professional Bull Riders among several other things. Is that a concern that such a big company is coming in here?

Rains: You know, obviously, if a company like that is swallowing up minor league teams, they must see it as a pretty good investment.

They're not out there to buy a minor league team just like you or I would if we really loved baseball, and we have a minor league baseball team and it'd be pretty cool to own a minor league baseball team, you know, we stretch ourselves financially to do it.

So, they're buying these clubs simply because they think it's going to be a good resource and a way to increase their revenues.

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

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