This past week saw Major League Baseball and the players association commit to daily meetings up until the league’s self imposed deadline of February 28th. According to commissioner Rob Manfred, if there isn’t a CBA in place by then the lockout will continue and regular season games will be missed. It’s not terribly surprising that the league is going trying to ramp up the pressure on the players with a deadline, despite the fact that they have not made a serious offer yet.
Both sides continue to have disagreements on the core economic issues confronting baseball. The issue that’s dragging the negotiations along is the luxury tax (also known as the competitive balance tax or CBT). MLB’s owners want to increase the level of the tax by $12 million over the length of the five-year CBA — the one that was signed in 2017 saw only an $11 million increase — and stricter penalties for teams that go over the tax. And those have been a nonstarter for the players.
While the league views the CBT as important for competitive balance, the players view it as killing spending and encouraging tanking. It’s hard to imagine that owners would be willing to push against the tax if the penalties are made even more stringent; especially since owners really stopped pushing against it after the last CBA. Currently, the owners want the status quo to be maintained with the tax and it seems pretty clear the players want a major change to how its structured.
While the owners did make movement on the salary offered to pre-arbitration eligible players, the players are still not impressed. The league’s most recent proposal would still leave players that are in their first three years of service time with the lowest minimum salary of the big four American sports league, despite playing the most games in a season.
The owners did make some movement on the minimum salary, this included pay bumps for the second and third years of service time as well, but it’s still not quiet what the players want. But at least there has been some positive movement on this front. Which cannot be said for the pre-arb bonus pool, discussion around the CBT, revenue sharing, tanking, and the general issues of minor league baseball.
More on the MLB lockout
MLB has notoriously exploited minor league players for the last century — and they’re asking the federal courts to let them to continue to do that during Spring Training — and they’re able to get away with that because the individual minor leaguers are not members of the union. That being said, there are some protections the MLBPA can provide to the minor leaguers and we’re seeing that in the middle of these tense CBA negotiations.
Currently, the Domestic Reserve List — which governs the number of minor league players a team can roster at any time — is at 180. The league proposed keeping the number at 180 for 2022 but allowing the commissioner’s office to reduce the maximum number of players to as few as 150 over the rest of the collective bargaining agreement, sources said. The proposal says the league could adjust the reserve list’s size “up or down.”Jeff Passan, ESPN
Cutting more minor league jobs is probably going to be a non-starter with the union; especially since the league has refused to increase the number of super two arbitration eligible players — if that had been agreed upon by the league, it’s expected that would have helped curb service time manipulation. MLB already eliminated 42 minor league clubs from the MiLB and also redistributed the remaining clubs so that the remaining 120 minor league teams were evenly distrusted among the 30 MLB franchises; and they were able to do that without the union getting involved, so it’s unlikely that the union would willingly give up more paying jobs for players that have a potential shot at becoming members.
The bottom line
MLB’s owners have moved on only two points of negotiation, the minimum salaries and the pre-arbitration bonus pool. And while the movement on the salaries is a step in the right direction; it’s not, and should not be, enough for the union to cave on its other priorities. Especially since both sides are still extremely far apart on just how much money should be in that bonus pool.
We didn’t even get to the fact that there will be an expanded playoff for baseball in 2022 and that the expanded playoff is expected to bring in north of $100 million in TV revenue.
The owners under their current proposal would receive a greater immediate financial benefit than players. For starters, they would get more than $100 million from expanded playoffs, which also will result in players receiving more money through their percentage of the gate. In addition, the owners will receive whatever income the league generates from advertising patches on uniforms.Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic
The concessions the owners have already made won’t make a dent in the expected revenue increase. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the players are holding firm when they know the owners are going to see a dramatic increase in their revenues starting this season.
It’s beyond time for the owners to actually negotiate with the players and make real concessions of their own. This lockout didn’t need to happen and it doesn’t need to prevent the season from starting on time; all of this is happening because the owners are trying to pinch as many pennies as possible at the same time as they’re going to see a short- and long-term increase in revenue thanks to playoff expansion.
The pressure needs to be on the guys who are preventing the players from working and not on the union.
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