The MLB lockout began on the first of December, and we’re now around eight weeks in.
There’s still no end in sight, at least in terms of any kind of specific date when we might expect the offseason to resume. What’s more, there’s still no guarantee that spring training and the regular season will begin on time, nor that the full season will be played.
However, at least the league and players association have started talking. That wasn’t the case a few weeks ago, but now negotiations are underway, which is an important first step toward completing a deal. As Wayne Gretzky used to say, you miss 100% of the Collective Bargaining Agreements that you don’t discuss.
Here’s a quick update on the latest. Jeff Passan of ESPN leads off with the big picture:
Labor talks are over. Here’s what happened.
• MLB agreed to accept parameters of a pre-arbitration bonus pool for top 30 WAR. MLBPA seeking $105M. League offered $10M.
• MLB offered minimum raise to $615K. MLBPA wants $775K.
• MLB withdrew offer to change arbitration structure
On the first point, about a bonus pool for the top pre-arb players, Passan adds this note:
There is no deal today. There never was going to be a deal today.
The takeaway: A pre-arb bonus pool gets the best young players paid more. Players wanted it, and it’s a good thing for them. Players are laughing at the $10M offer. It’s far too low. Negotiations will change that.
On the second point, Evan Drellich of The Athletic adds some context:
MLB proposed today to raise the minimum salary for players with 0 to 1 year of service time to $615,000. Previously had proposed $600,000. No change to 1-2 years (650k) or 2-3 (700). MLB also withdrew its proposals to eliminate salary arbitration for any group.
On the third point (and also the first point), Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post adds some details:
MLB is dropping its proposals to change arbitration and end Super Two, per a person familiar with today’s proposal. Have also agreed to union’s idea of a bonus pool, funded by central revenue, to reward players with less than three years service time who win awards, hit WAR marks.
One of the MLBPA’s primary goals is getting players paid earlier in their careers, which is reflected in their efforts to raise the minimum salary, shift some of the pie toward pre-arbitration players, and preserve the Super Two designation that already gets a handful of players into arbitration a year early. On Monday the MLBPA dropped its idea of an age-based free agent system, reports Drellich.
However, on the topic of an extra compensation pool for the best pre-arb players, there might be questions about how to decide who qualifies as the best. Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors explains some potential conflicts of interest:
Beyond needing to agree on which form of WAR to set as the standard, the concept isn’t likely to sit well with the proprietors of those metrics. Baseball-Reference’s Sean Forman has already taken to Twitter to explain how uncomfortable he is with the notion of players being assigned millions of dollars based on a metric that is constantly undergoing slight tweaks to keep up with changes in the game (his Twitter thread on the matter is well worth a full read). Additionally, as Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri points out (Twitter link), there are some obvious potential conflicts of interest in tying pre-arb bonuses to awards voting that is conducted by the media members who cover those players.
There’s still a long way to go, but now we at least have a peek at the conversation. Of course, there will be other issues on the table beyond just the ones that came up Tuesday, as MLB insider Jon Heyman mentions:
MLB players union offered to decrease the revenue sharing increase they requested (from big markets to small) from $100M to $30M. MLB meanwhile is staying steadfast in saying revenue sharing formula will remain the same. Management source predicts union will give this up in trade.
As for how much progress was made, that’s difficult to say. Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle relays this response:
I asked a source with knowledge of today’s bargaining session about perceived movement from MLB on talks and source said “I’d hesitate to call it movement. The players’ reaction to this universally was, ‘What the f-, are you kidding me?’
And Travis Sawchik of The Score isn’t impressed by the league’s proposed increase in the minimum salary:
Corrected math: MLB increasing its min salary offer from $600k to $615k is still nothing, a step backward in adjusted pay ... Again, $1 in 2017, at the start of the last CBA, is worth $0.86 today. To keep up with inflation alone, the min would need to be $650k in 2022.
All this, and we haven’t even gotten into expanding the postseason, or adjustments to the draft, and they still have to figure out revenue sharing and the luxury tax. Maybe today counts as progress, maybe it doesn’t, but two factual statements are that negotiations are properly underway and also that they’re not close to being finished.