Major League Baseball and its owners are set to break its union no matter the cost. That was the messaging that was clear over the course of the weekend. While the players continue to offer concessions on some of the positions, the owners absolutely refuse to move on theirs. Since the league’s self imposed deadline of February 28th is today, it’s decision day for MLB on whether or not it wants to significantly cripple its product.
This pasts weekend saw the players move on its Competitive Balance Tax and super-two eligibility proposals. The MLBPA asked for increases of $2 million over three of the CBA’s five years; and on the super-two front, the union reduced it’s request from 80% of players being eligible to 35% — at the end of the old CBA only 22% of players are eligible for super-two status. These were seismic shifts from the association’s proposals just a few days days ago. And the owners saw this movement and decided to try and squeeze even more concessions out of the MLBPA with regards to the CBT.
MLB: Proposed raising threshold to $214 million in 2022, $215 million ’23, $216 million in ’24, $218 million in ’25 and $222 million in ’26, with the second threshold $20 million above the first and the third threshold $40 million above the first. MLB also proposed increasing the tax rate to 45% for exceeding the first threshold, 62% for exceeding the second and 95% for exceeding the third, with no escalating rate for a team exceeding in successive years. A team would lose a second-round pick for going over the second threshold rather than dropping 10 slots and would forfeit a first-round selection for exceeding the third threshold.AP via USA Today
Since negotiations began over a year ago, the players have made it clear that they want to see a dramatic increase in the CBT along with a lessening of penalties to try and incentivize more spending. Not only have the owners refused to seriously increase the CBT, or even let it keep pace with inflation, they’re proposing what essentially amounts to a salary cap without any of the revenue based increases you see in other leagues — the more money the league makes, the more the cap increases. In other words, this is a laughable proposal that shows the league isn’t particularly serious about getting a deal done even if it means cancelling regular season games.
There was positive movement as both sides agreed to eliminate the qualifying offer, and the resulting draft pick, from free agency. And there was some movement on the number of teams in the draft lottery — which both sides want. MLB increased the number of picks in the draft lotter from three to four last week; which led to the MLBPA decreased the number of picks from eight to seven. But they’re still far apart on the number of picks in the draft and whether or not there should be restriction son the number of consecutive years teams can pick in the lottery.
It appears that the league has a framework for the lottery that the union finds acceptable, but the details have yet to be ironed out. What put the entire process into doubt was the owners attempt to tie their 14-team expanded playoff into the draft lottery — the league is set to earn an estimated $100 million from the expanded playoffs as its already sold the media rights to them.
As for that expanded playoff format, the players association has proposed a 12 team format without any additional revenue compensation towards the union for the expanded playoffs — other than the increase in number of games.
Where the league really threw a wrench into the plans was when the league announced they only wanted to provide 45-days notice before any rule changes to the players association. Under the expired CBA, Commissioner Rob Manfred had to wait a year between formally proposing a rule change to the association before he unilaterally implemented it. Understandably, the players union went through the roof and threatened to pull any support for expanding the playoffs as a result. And that pissed off the owners.
That leaves us at the point where the MLB and the MLBPA are incredibly far apart because one side — the owners — have barely made any concessions on their proposals. While the players have; outside of the super-two proposal, the players have significantly shifted on their CBT and revenue sharing request and the union has also dropped its age based free agency request. MLB’s behavior in these negotiations, and their unwillingness to compromise, indicate to me that the league is doing it’s best to bust the union.
The owners had gotten almost everything they wanted in the previous three contract negotiations and its clear that they have no idea how to handle a united union that has yet to fracture. If they don’t want to lose out on regular season games, and the associated revenue, it would be best for MLB would move a little and give the association reason to think its actually serious about getting a deal done.
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