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MLB players’ association clarifies CBA objectives and implications of a lockout

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Players and owners agree to advance the tender deadline to November 30

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Tony Clark, executive director of Major League Baseball Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images

The Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) has agreed with Major league baseball to advance the deadline for teams to tender contracts to players who are not yet eligible for free agency, mainly affecting players who are eligible for arbitration.

The tender deadline will be moved from December 2nd to November 30 at 8 p.m. eastern time. Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will expire on December 1st at 11:59 p.m. The owners are expected to lockout the players and implement a transaction freeze on December 2nd.

The move will allow teams and players to know whether they will be getting a contract offer and heading toward arbitration- if there is arbitration in the new CBA- or whether they will become free agents. Non tendered players would have 31 hours to sign with a team before transactions are frozen.

Players who are not tendered an offer before the deadline will become unrestricted free agents. Since the current CBA which sets the terms for tendering contracts would have expired and transactions frozen, hundreds of players could have been in limbo, possibly for several months until a new agreement is reached.

Of course, owners could postpone the transaction freeze but their intention to lockout the players and freeze transactions is becoming clearer by the day. At least the players and owners agreed on something.

Effects of a Lockout

The Athletic reports that the MLBPA also issued a statement outlining their objectives in negotiating a new CBA. The association has distributed a work stoppage guide to agents and players, clarifying what activities will continue and what will cease in the event of a lockout and transaction freeze. According to the story:

  • Players can receive assistance only if they are on the 40 man roster. This includes health insurance coverage for players who were on a roster at any time during the 2021 season.
  • Amount of assistance was not announced, but some players received up to $ 10,000 every two weeks during the 1994-95 players’ strike.
  • Drug testing would stop in the absence of a CBA.
  • Injured players could not rehabilitate at team facilities
  • Players would be free to sign and play in international leagues during a lockout
  • Some players could go ahead and play in the minor leagues if the lockout is still in effect when those leagues begin play. However, players can not be optioned to the minors during a work stoppage.
  • Player visas could be revoked during a stoppage if they are not in the US when the lockout begins. That is up to the US Government.
  • Needless to say, no trades or free agent signings would take place during a lockout.

MLBPA’s bargaining objectives

The pamphlet then goes on to explain the union’s position in collective bargaining. We’ll post this with some interpretation, to provide some specifics on what the players are seeking.

“A broad assessment of our industry shows that Player value and Player compensation are not moving in the right direction,” the page begins. “We have fundamental concerns about the integrity of the system as it is currently operating.”

Translation: Player salaries have decreased the past three seasons, while several teams are tanking and not making a sincere effort to put a competitive team on the field. Meanwhile, new local and national television contracts have given MLB substantial revenue growth.

Incentivizing Competition

We continue to see Clubs openly choosing a model of sustained losing while still reaping economic benefit. Winning at all levels needs to have value, or our system doesn’t work.

Translation: Stop the tanking. Implement a salary floor as part of the competitive balance tax structure, forcing teams to spend revenue sharing dollars, and don’t allow teams to compile the highest draft picks in consecutive years.

Ensuring the most talented players are on the field

Our game is at its best when the best Players are on the field, regardless of age, experience, or service time. Clubs continue to keep the best Players off the field, simply to manipulate service time. This fundamentally damages the integrity of the sport.

Translation: End service time manipulation. The arbitrator in Kris Bryant’s case ruled that there is nothing in the CBA that prohibits teams from holding a player in the minors for financial reasons. Changing the language would still require players to file a grievance and prove their case if they feel cheated. Allowing all stars or those who earn certain awards or produce at a certain level to become eligible for arbitration sooner would help to address this issue.

Reducing artificial restraints on competition

Restrictions like the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) and Draft Pick Compensation continue to affect how Clubs compete for Players and provide convenient excuses for Clubs to justify their lack of competitiveness. These artificial drags on Player compensation must be addressed.

Translation: End the payment of compensation for elite players. Relatively few players receive qualifying offers and are subject to payment of compensation, and teams that have benefited have more typically been larger market teams. The owners offered to end payment of free agent compensation in the last round of talks in exchange for an international draft.

Increase the threshold for teams paying a CB tax. While the threshold has crept up slowly, it has not kept pace with revenue growth. The tax threshold has functioned as a de facto salary cap, as every team that had payrolls exceeding the threshold has slashed payroll to get below it at some point during the current CBA. And again, implement a salary floor as part of the CB Tax structure.

The owners actually proposed a salary floor, presumably with a soft tax, but they also proposed lowering the tax threshold to the point where eight more teams would pay a tax, and increasing the tax rate in their proposal.

Getting players their value earlier in their career

For decades, our reserve system has been separated into three main groups: pre-arbitration players who make near the minimum salary; players eligible for salary arbitration; and free agents. Recent industry trends show that more and more on-field value is being created by younger players whose salaries are artificially suppressed by the reserve system. The system needs to be modernized so that players can be compensated for the value they create, WHEN THEY CREATE IT.

Translation: Increase the minimum salary substantially, closing the pay gap between pre- arb and arbitration eligible players.

Reduce arbitration eligibility to two seasons, and modify how service time is calculated, allowing some players to enter free agency sooner.

Owners have proposed increasing the minimum wage, eliminating the arbitration system, which has been in place since 1970, and making players eligible for free agency at age 29-1/2. The six year service time requirement has been in place since 1976. Both proposals met with strong opposition from players. BYB explained the proposals here.

Details about the MLBPA’s proposals, which were made in May, and revised in October are not fully known, but their objectives are.

Ultimately, the stalemate centers around the core economic issues. CBT thresholds and salary floor, minimum salary, arbitration eligibility, service time manipulation, and tanking. The owners would also like playoff expansion and an international draft. Follow the money.