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MLB postpones spring training, sets CBA deadline to start season on time

Meanwhile, the players reduced demand for arbitration after two years, but increased their ask for a pre-arb bonus pool.

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MLB: JAN 09 MLB Lockout Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After weeks of posturing and no real progress, the start of spring training was finally officially delayed on Friday. Fans trying to plan their attendance had been left in limbo about the start of Grapefruit and Cactus League games for the past few weeks, and clarity was needed.

Major League Baseball has postponed spring training to at least March 5, and the players have responded.

“We regret that, without a collective bargaining agreement in place, we must postpone the start of Spring Training games until no earlier than Saturday, March 5th,” MLB said in a statement. “All 30 clubs are unified in their strong desire to bring players back to the field and fans back to the stands. The Clubs have adopted a uniform policy that provides an option for full refunds for fans who have purchased tickets from the Clubs to any Spring Training games that are not taking place.”

The players shot back:

“MLB announced today that it ’must’ postpone the start of spring training games. This is false. Nothing requires the league to delay the start of spring training, much like nothing required the league’s decision to implement the lockout in the first place. Despite these decisions by the league, Players remain committed to the negotiating process.”

MLB also said it will meet in person with the players on Monday, “and remain every day next week to negotiate and work hard towards starting the season on time.” according to The Athletic.

Opening Day in Peril

In their proposal to players made on February 12, 2022, Major league baseball (MLB) owners provided a calendar setting February 28, 2022 as the date by which a new agreement must be reached in order to begin the season on time on March 31st, according to Bob Nightengale at USA Today.

The players responded by saying that expanded playoffs are not likely if any regular season games were missed. Expanding the playoffs to 14 teams would net MLB an extra $100 million from their new contract with ESPN, plus increased profits from gate receipts. It is the owners’ most desired perk in these CBA negotiations.

The two sides met for just 15 minutes on February 17 when the players presented their latest proposals, which included reducing their request that all players with 2.0 years of service time become eligible for free agency to 80 percent of players in the 2-3 year service class be eligible. They also increased the amount of bonus pool money to be provided by MLB for star players in that class from $100 million to $115 million.

After the 15 minute session concluded, chief negotiators Bruce Meyer for the players and Dan Halem for the owners had a one on one meeting for another 20 minutes that was said to be “candid”.

What the proposals mean

The players’ proposal can be taken as a tactical move to tie the bonus pool and arbitration issues together, as well as demonstrating to owners that if they are going to offset every concession with a take back in other areas, the players can do the same thing.

In the larger picture, MLB clearly views the bonus pool, in which they offered $15 million, as a way of making the arbitration issue for players in that service class go away. The players aren’t having it.

Currently, 22 percent of players with between two and three years of service are eligible as “super two” players for arbitration. The players propose increasing that to 80 percent. At 22 percent, the arbitration cutoff this season translated into two years and 116 days, (read 2.116). The actual cutoff has fluctuated between 2.114 and 2.141 since the 22 percent cutoff was instituted in 2011. If the cutoff was 2.5 years, for example, that would be 2.086, enabling another 35 players this off season to be eligible for arbitration. An 80 percent cutoff would enable an additional 79 players.

Getting to arbitration is a big deal for players. With a minimum salary of $ 570,500 and proposals to increase it by no more than $305,000 at the most, a starting player has a floor of about $2 million in the first season of arbitration eligibility.

Leaving just 20 percent of the players with two to three years of service time out of the arbitration class might allow teams to call up top prospects in September without adding another year of arbitration eligibility to their payroll.

Whether the owners will budge at all from the current super two cutoff remains to be seen. MLB has previously proposed eliminating arbitration altogether and then proposed eliminating arbitration for the super two players, to be replaced with a WAR based formula for determining salary. Those proposals were shot down quickly by the players.

Any movement in the super 2 cutoff would be a win for players, but the owners were never going to get to 2.0 years if they move at all on the issue.

What about the competitive balance tax?

The players’ proposals made no mention of minimum salary or the competitive balance tax. Suffice it to say that the owners proposals for just a one percent increase in tax thresholds while more than doubling the tax rates and adding draft penalties is a complete non starter with the players. The owners’ proposal is essentially a demand for an almost hard salary cap.

There will need to be more movement on the arbitration cutoff issue and the bonus pool where the two sides are now $100 million apart. There is also a $140 million gap on the minimum salary proposals, with the owners still proposing fixed salaries and no increase over five years.

The league says the next meeting will take place Monday, and that they intend to hold bargaining sessions throughout the week to bridge the impasse. Hopefully, now that they’ve stalled this close to the breaking point, real progress will start to take place.

MLB owners set these negotiations up very much intentionally designed to push the players up against the start of the season to gain more leverage, hoping that the threat of lost paychecks would weaken their resolve, but it’s not working. The lockout is the owners’ doing and they could lift it at any time. Likewise, the delays in negotiations have mainly been on their time frame, starting with waiting six weeks after declaring a lockout in December to call a meeting. Now they’ve got their wish, while the start of the regular season remains in peril.