Pitchers and catchers were supposed to report to Spring Training camps on the 15th or 16th of February this year; given the state of the negotiations regarding a new CBA, that looks to be an impossibility – – even if all the teams have gone to the effort to transport all the “stuff” needed to hold Spring Training to the venues where it should be taking place. Based on various reporting, here is my understanding of where the negotiations have gotten to:
- One of the so-called “core economic issues” relates to young players known as “Super Two” players. Such players have more than two but less than three years of credited service time in the major leagues and some – not all – of those players can qualify for arbitration even with shorter service time than is normal. The issue at hand is a pool of bonus money that could be used to increase salaries for some “Super Two” players without resorting to arbitration. The amount of money in the pool is obviously a bone of contention and there seems to be no clear agreement as to how the bonus pool might be allocated among eligible players. One report on the gulf that exists here as to the size of this bonus pool said that the owners proposed a $10M pool and the players suggested a $105M pool. This could take a while…
- Service time manipulation – the practice of MLB teams to keep players in the minor leagues just long enough that they do not accumulate a full year of service time in the majors so that their free agency date is postponed a full season – is also a sticking point. MLB has proposed giving bonus draft picks to teams that do not manipulate service time. While that sounds like a fig leaf to me, I must admit that I do not have a better idea.
- MLB wants to expand the playoffs to 14 teams – an idea I think is a bad one. The union opposes that seemingly only because it is a bargaining chip for them to try to pry a concession from owners elsewhere in the CBA. If that were not the case, I do not see how or why the union would want to have fewer of its players in the playoffs where more players can qualify for bonuses in their contracts for making the playoffs.
- The universal DH is also an issue. Feh!
- Naturally, the union wants the minimum salary for players increased and the owners want to increase it to a much lesser extent. No surprise there…
- There is reported to be a “significant gap” in the payroll threshold after which teams pay the “luxury tax”. This is important because luxury tax money is shared with “small market teams” and the union’s position is that some of those teams are pocketing the money and not using it to try to sign players to market value contracts.
- There is also contention over another revenue sharing practice in place where local TV and radio revenues for the teams are pooled and shared nominally to give the small market teams a stronger footing in bidding for free agent players. The issue here is that some teams never do seem to use that money in that way.
The owners are meeting this week in Orlando, FL; presumably, the negotiation team will bring the “plenary session” of the owners’ meeting up to date on all these issues – – and others that are interwoven in the fabric of the talks. Commissioner Rob Manfred is scheduled to hold a news conference on Thursday of this week; perhaps the best we can hope for is that he sheds more light than heat on what is going on here.
One of the major problems I have had with baseball’s CBA negotiations over the years is that the fundamental issues never seem to change very much. The two sides fulminate at each other and eventually come to a sort of agreement that merely puts a band-aid on the wound and leaves in place all the fundamental disagreements. Then, five years later, they go into the memory banks and drag out the old issues and begin fulminating again. This time around, the two sides – – and I mean BOTH sides – – seem to have chosen to play the game of chicken very close to some real calendar imperatives.
If the start of Spring Training is delayed, that probably also delays the start of Spring Training games.
- If Spring Training games are started significantly later than scheduled (Feb.26th is on the books now) that could delay the start of the regular season.
- Now imagine a late start in April combined with “expanded playoffs” and the choice becomes a shorter regular season or World Series games bumping up against Thanksgiving.
- And if the regular season has to be shortened, that will add another “economic issue” to the negotiations – – how will player contracts be paid out or pro-rated…
This situation is a stone-cold mess. And the two sides here need to take a moment for introspection and reflection on the fact that the truncated 2020 season should have demonstrated to them that fans can live without baseball. There was plenty of turmoil in in the US in 2020 and none of that turmoil was in response to the absence of baseball until July.
Let me return to a fundamental theme I have offered here in the past. MLB and the MLBPA should be much less antagonistic to each other than they are now – – and have been for the last 40 years. The two sides are, in reality, partners – not opponents – in producing and distributing a “television series”. The reason top players are routinely making $30M a year or more is TV network money; it is not the marketing genius of the owners, and it is not the athletic genius of the players; it is both working in concert. That sort of camaraderie never seems to surface…
Finally, since today’s rant has focused on reporting about the two sides in a labor negotiation, let me close with this observation by humorist, H. Allen Smith, that should provide you with a guide as to how to read such reporting:
“When there are two conflicting versions of the story, the wise course is to believe the one in which people appear at their worst.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports