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Elephant Rumblings: What will it take to end the MLB lockout?

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MLB: MLB Lockout
Feb 23, 2022; Jupiter, FL, USA; Major League Baseball Players Association chief negotiator Bruce Meyer talks to reporters about contract negotiations at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida on February 23, 2022.

Happy Friday, Athletics Nation!

The league and players met for a fourth straight day today in their attempt to accelerate negotiations towards a new collective bargaining agreement, but progress was once again minimal. Both sides will be back at it tomorrow, and with Monday set as the last day to strike a deal without delaying Opening Day, it is clear that big breakthroughs will be needed in a hurry to crack the impasse.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote scathingly yesterday of MLB’s bargaining approach:

“But the owners’ strategy from the start was to squeeze the union until regular-season games were in jeopardy, all the while recoiling in disgust when the player-serfs rejected their crumbs and refused to view them as benevolent despots.”

Rosenthal went on to offer up his take on what a final deal should look like:

  • A minimum salary of $700K with unspecified annual increases. That figure is pretty close to the midpoint between both sides’ current proposals.
  • An all-new pre-arbitration bonus pool of $40 to $50 million for 0-to-3 year players. This would at least double what MLB is currently offering, though it falls well short of the MLBPA’s demand of $115 million.
  • A relatively small increase in the percentage of players in the 2+ year service class that are eligible for arbitration, from 22 (same as the last agreement) to 30 percent. This would fall well short of the players’ demand of 75 percent, but it does at least represent upward motion, which the league has thus far refused to yield.
  • A competitive balance tax threshold of $225 to $230 million, increasing to $245 million over the five year term, with no increased financial penalties from the previous agreement but an end to non-financial penalties, such as draft picks and international bonus pool space. These numbers almost perfectly split the two camps’, while limiting increases for the owners and reducing non-monetary penalties to the players’ benefit.
  • 14 teams in the playoffs. This is what the league currently proposes while the players have so far only agreed to an increase from 10 to 12 teams.
  • Draft lottery for the first six draft picks. That’s two more than MLB and one less than the MLBPA have proposed to date, and it would double the current allowance of three.

Rosenthal didn’t offer specifics on other issues such as service time manipulation, minor-league options, or the international draft. But his point is simple enough: overall, this seems like a pretty mathematically balanced compromise between the two sides’ current proposals, and to get a deal done and the season started on time, both parties need to stake out positions much closer to the middle ground between them. He also posits that league and players alike may be underestimating the consequences of fan alienation and discontent if the season is delayed.

So how about a final deal today and a celebratory weekend? I’m not holding my breath.

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