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What ongoing labor talks mean for Cardinals and MLB

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It was sometime before July 31 in 2009 and the Cardinals were looking for a cleanup hitter to root behind their perennial MVP Albert Pujols. The front office’s preferred target was Matt Holliday, and an attempt to acquire him from Oakland in June of that summer was unsuccessful. That didn’t end their pursuit. General manager John Mozeliak would later explain how the sides, so rigid in June, could loosen to make a deal come late July.

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Deadlines, he explained, always help provoke action.

Well, one is coming this weekend.

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 Action could follow.

Major League Baseball and the players’ union are meeting this week for 11th-hour negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current deal expires Thursday. A deadline is imminent.

There have been reports that a “lockout” is possible. First, that word isn’t as frightening today as it sounds. Second, negotiations would continue – and so could business. The CBA talks have, however, had a chilling effect on the market so far this winter. The Cardinals signed lefty Brett Cecil and Atlanta has landed a series of starting pitchers, but so far there’s been only chatter about the biggest names in this shallow free-agent pool. According to people I’ve talked to in recent weeks and other reporters, there has been hesitation by teams as they await new CBA rules.

The CBA governs everything from how the draft is run to how players reach free agency, from how arbitration can be used to how draft-pick compensation works. The luxury tax teams try avoid? Set by the CBA. The six years of service time it takes for a player to become a free agent? Set by the CBA. The spending limits on amateurs? Set by the CBA. The problem with draft-pick compensation creating a de facto unevenness for free agents? Invited by the CBA.

This is not as sexy as the latest hot stove scuttlebutt.

But it’s important.

Baseball has not had a work stoppage in more than 20 years, and there is so so so so much money flooding into the game at this point that neither side wants one now. Allow me to dive in and try to explain what is going on, what it means, and how it has an influence on the Cardinals’ winter.

Not too long, Fox Sports’ baseball uber-insider Ken Rosenthal cited unnamed sources and reported that owners “will consider voting to lock out players if the two sides cannot reach a new collective-bargaining agreement by the time the current deal expires on Dec. 1.” This is a legal reality. Some readers who followed me on the Blues’ beat may recall how this works, but as recently as the GM meetings commissioner Rob Manfred spelled it out.

When a CBA expires there are three options, and two of them involve the declaration of an impasse. That is not a good word.

The first option – and most likely option – is that negotiations continue and the current CBA gets a soft extension. Teams and players and agents would operate under the existing rules for as long as the negotiations go on. In effect, the current CBA could continue through the winter and into next season without an issue – it would just be status quo.

“Legally, the agreement remains in place until Dec. 1 and we operate under the terms of that agreement, under the National Labor Laws Relations Act,” Manfred said. “Post-expiration, and absent an impasse, the old terms and conditions of employment remain in place. Meaning: We will continue to operate under the old system.”

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