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MLB Players make second proposal in CBA talks

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Lockout looms as December 1 deadline nears

New York Yankees v New York Mets Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The major league baseball players’ association (MLBPA) made a second proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to club owners on October 29, according to Evin Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. With the current agreement set to expire on December 1st, and looming threats of a possible lockout of players, and a freeze on all free agent signings, the two sides remain far apart.

The players first proposal was made in May, with few details revealed. The owners responded with a complete non starter of a reply in August, and the players’ second offer is reported to be similar in content to their first. The ball now moves to the owners’ court, even as Commissioner Rob Manfred mutters about hoping to have an agreement by the end of the month.

Among the changes proposed by the players:- Increasing the minimum major league salary

  • Allowing players to become eligible for arbitration after two years instead of three (or super two).
  • Allowing some players to become free agents earlier under certain circumstances
  • Increasing the upper competitive balance tax threshold.
  • Mechanisms to prevent teams from “tanking” that include modifying the draft order and the formula for revenue sharing
  • Changing the way that service time is calculated

The owners’ proposal, which was rejected by the players as a non starter, included

  • Lowering the CBT threshold from $ 215 million payroll to $ 180 million
  • Increasing penalties for teams that exceed the CBT threshold
  • Changing free agency eligibility to age 29-1/2 instead of service time based
  • A “soft floor” that would penalize teams below $ 100 million payroll
  • A set “pool” of funds available for arbitration eligible players
  • Disallowing teams from drafting among the top five draft picks for three straight years
  • The owners’ fondest wish is for expanding playoffs up to 14 teams, seven in each league. It seems likely that the players will grant this wish, but only when they have extracted enough concessions on other core financial issues.
  • The league also proposed implementing an international draft, long desired by owners going for many years. In the last round of talks, MLB offered to scrap the payment of free agent compensation in exchange for a draft, but ultimately settled for hard bonus limits on international signings while the “qualifying offer” system remains in place only for the very elite free agents each season.

Full details of the proposals from either side remain unclear, and there are no reports of implementing a universal designated hitter or other changes to the playing rules that we know are being discussed.

The two sides have been meeting either virtually or in person about twice a week, and are expected to get together at the General Managers’ meeting in Carlsbad, California next week according to the Athletic. Dan Halem is leading the negotiations for MLB while Bruce Meyer heads up the players’ negotiating team.

While the list above may seem like both sided have rather lengthy wish lists during the talks, the owners really have few desires, mainly expanding playoffs which would bring them millions more in national television revenue. Of course, they will resist players’ efforts to capture more of the growing revenue pie sought by the players on several fronts.

There has not been a players’ strike in any of the four major sports in the USA since 1994- 95, when a mid-season strike led to cancellation of the World Series. There have been work stoppages resulting in games being canceled in the NHL, the NFL and the NBA, but each stoppage resulted from a lockout. Players will not strike during the off season, as there are no games to play and no salaries to be earned, but the owners.

It would be fair to say that the owners have not yet made a serious proposal to avoid a work stoppage, just weeks away from their threatened lockout. One could be forgiven for believing that the owners aren’t particularly concerned if a spending freeze is implemented in December, or even if part of the regular season is delayed.

It’s not hard to envision a scenario where the two sides split their differences, something like this:

  • Players become eligible for arbitration after 2.5 seasons, with top performers eligible after 2 years
  • The tax threshold increases with a dollar for dollar tax on the upper end, and also a hard floor on the lower end at $ 100 million- The inevitable increase in minimum salary is agreed
  • Playoffs are expanded to 12 teams, increasing to 14 teams once MLB expands to 32 teams (adding 52 more MLB jobs)- An international draft is implemented, but teams are required to pay the slot bonuses to drafted players, rather than controlling their rights and then not paying them
  • Payment of free agent compensation is eliminated, but teams still receive supplemental draft picks when they lose a top player to free agency- but only if they’re not paying a CB tax.
  • The designated hitter becomes universal, ghost runners are gone, and do whatever they’re going to do with shifts.

Meanwhile, under the radar, the players’ grievance filed against MLB for failing to use best efforts to play more than 60 games during the Covid- shortened 2020 season began hearings in September, with no details being released. The grievance seeks a reported $ 500 million in damages, an amount that could conceivably go away if a new CBA were to be reached by the parties.