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CBA talks progressing quickly prior to MLB Winter Meetings

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Despite concerns that talks will force cancellation of the Winter Meetings, the two sides appear close to agreement.

MLB, MLBPA Announce New Labor Agreement
Tony Clark MLBPA
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Major League Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will expire Thursday, December 1. However, baseball won’t turn back into a pumpkin at midnight if a new agreement isn’t completed beforehand. Reports continue to indicate progress in talks, with just a few sticking points remaining. Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi reported that negotiations between the owners and MLB Players Association (MLBPA) stretched into the early hours of Wednesday morning. The flurry of activity among MLB teams on Tuesday -- including Yoenis Cespedes’ four-year, $110 million contract extension -- further indicates that a new agreement could be on the horizon.

Yet, as ESPN’s Buster Olney reported on Monday, teams understand that if the new CBA isn’t worked out in advance of next week’s MLB Winter Meetings, the meetings themselves may be in jeopardy. Those sentiments were echoed by ESPN’s Adam Rubin on Wednesday morning.

While most of the outline for a new CBA has been in place for some time, two key sticking points have continued to keep the league and the player’s union apart from a new agreement. On one front, an international draft, desired by the league and its owners, appears to be on the shelf for the time being. According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, owners have accepted that an international draft is an item that will have to wait for another time.

That concession should pave the way for talks to focus solely around the final major obstacles: the luxury tax and the compensation pick system. Both items serve as a proxy in the debate over the players share of revenue relative to the owners share. According to Rosenthal, the owners have proposed using forfeiture of draft picks for teams exceeding the luxury tax, as opposed to financial penalties.

The issue there for the players’ union is that teams may well value their draft picks more highly than any actual financial penalties, making them less likely to spend beyond the threshold. The union is sensitive to any rule changes that would discourage teams from increased spending, particularly as the players’ share of revenue has decreased substantially over the course of the past two collective bargaining agreements. It remains to be seen if the two sides, having apparently whittled the new agreement down to just a few areas of disagreement, will be able to conclude negotiations in short order.

Without a solid framework on all major issues, if not a completed agreement, the annual Winter Meetings, scheduled for December 4-8 could be poorly attended. Teams and agents traditionally get a lot of business done during the meetings, including trades, free agent signings, and the Rule 5 draft. Their cancellation could have far-reaching effects on teams’ progress this offseason.

In addition, the meetings have functioned as something of a soft deadline for negotiations. Beyond those dates, there aren’t any particular milestones to hit, making it perhaps more likely that previous issues would be revisited, and the entire course of negotiations prolonged. Yet, optimism remains that the final areas of disagreement may be resolved in short order.