As expected, a Thursday meeting between Major League Baseball and the Players Association did not result in significant progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement. On the 43rd day of the lockout, in an hourlong Zoom meeting, the league made its first economic proposal since the outgoing CBA expired.
The union was left underwhelmed, but not shocked.
The league’s presentation included:
Replacing Super Two status — whereby the top 22% of players with two-plus years of service time are awarded arbitration a year ahead of schedule — with a bonus pool to reward the performance of two-plus players. In other words, only players with at least three full years of service time would be eligible for arbitration, but all players with between two and three years of service would have alternate means of capitalizing on their success. The league had previously proposed doing away with arbitration entirely to replace it with a similar formula-based system for determining salaries for all players under team control. That proposal was taken off the table. But the union is interested in expanding, not reducing, the number of players who are arbitration-eligible.
In an effort to disincentivize service time manipulation — holding top prospects in the minor leagues to avoid starting their “clock” accruing service time toward arbitration and free agency — the league proposed bonus draft picks for teams that field their best prospects on opening day. If a Top 100 prospect — according to at least two public rankings — accrues a full year of service in his first season and goes on to be a winner or finalist in certain award categories in any of his first three seasons, his team will receive an extra draft pick (teams cannot get multiple picks off the same player, however, if the wins multiple awards in that time). For example, if a player wins Rookie of the Year or finishes in the top three for MVP or Cy Young, the team will receive an extra draft pick immediately after the first round.
Designed to address tanking, the league proposed a new tweak to its previous draft proposal — which involved a lottery for the top three picks — that would limit how many consecutive years a team could pick in the top three. The union has previously proposed their own version of a draft lottery, but one that extends further than the top three picks.
MLB lockout not likely to end soon
There was no new proposal made on the competitive balance tax threshold or the penalties for surpassing it. The league’s last proposal in November included raising the CBT — not nearly as high as the union would like to see it — but increasing the penalties for going over. MLB also did not make a new proposal for minimum salaries, after previously proposing a tiered system starting at $600,000 (in 2021 the league minimum was $570,500).
The league has also previously proposed a universal designated hitter and a 14-team postseason field and getting rid of draft pick penalties for signing players who were given a qualifying offer.
There was no proposal made on revenue sharing or the existing six-year path to free agency, two areas that the league seems uninterested in altering from their current state. In the immediate wake of the lockout, commissioner Rob Manfred called the union’s proposed changes on those fronts “bad for the sport, bad for the fans and bad for competitive balance.”
The PA expressed disappointment and is still considering its next step. There are currently no upcoming bargaining sessions scheduled, but, of course, that can change quickly. Hopefully this represents a relative thawing of the negotiating process itself, if not a meaningful step toward consensus.
Spring training is just about a month away and both sides will need time after a deal is struck to finish out the offseason and ramp up — the remaining free agents will need to find teams, international players will need to sort out visas. The ongoing pandemic continues to complicate matters and necessitate a new set of health and safety protocols, which will need to be negotiated and established at some point.
Ultimately, the lack of significant progress today doesn’t signal much change to the overall outlook. But that’s because it never seemed like this was going to get done until the last possible minute. Whether that’s before or after games are on the line remains to be seen.