I’m not a fan of covering MLB labor negotiations like a sporting event, but let’s at least sort through the difference between the last two reported substantial talks between owners and players.
Thursday was the first official talks between the two sides since December 1. Evan Drellich at The Athletic noted, “MLB’s proposal today didn’t encourage the players.” Jeff Passan at ESPN tweeted, “The reaction among the players was not positive. Few on either side expected it to be. The question is how soon the MLBPA counters.”
After those December 1 negotiations, when the players and owners could not reach an accord, MLB locked out the players at midnight, and commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, “We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time.”
The negotiations were so jumpstarted that it took 43 days until the next proposal was made.
That doesn’t seem like a functioning relationship, but some of that is a function of the calendar. We aren’t yet at a point where actual games are threatened. That point will come relatively soon, with the idea of pitchers and catchers reporting right after Valentines Day looking more and more unlikely. Spring training may very well be shortened, but labor discord would likely have to extend into March to start threatening the start of the regular season.
Deadlines provide impetus for a deal, but MLB isn’t there yet. And judging by the reports of Thursday’s proposal from MLB owners, things aren’t particularly close.
MLB proposed awarding a draft pick if a team places a Top 100 prospect on its opening day roster, then the player wins Rookie of the Year or finishes in the top 3 of MVP or Cy Young voting within his first three seasons, sources said. The offer included the possibility of a pick in an international draft, sources said, indicating that the league is continuing to push for a change in the signing of non-domestic amateurs. A team, sources said, could reap only one pick per player, meaning if he won Rookie of the Year and then MVP, the second award would not lead to a second pick.
Players’ skepticism toward the idea mirrored that of when the league proposed using the Wins Above Replacement system from FanGraphs to replace the arbitration system. While the idea of incentivizing teams to break camp with their best 26 players is a goal of players, doing so through the opinions of outsiders — in this case the baseball writers who have turned prospect lists into a successful industry — did not appeal to them, sources said.
There was no movement on the sides’ different stands on luxury tax levels, minimum salaries or on the union’s desire to decrease revenue sharing, which would leave large-market teams with more money to spend.
Back in December, the sides were far apart on increasing the minimum salary, which was $570,500 in 2021. From Drellich’s summary of the proceedings on Thursday at The Athletic:
MLB didn’t newly adjust its proposal for league minimum salaries, which would introduce a tiered system based on service time, paying players $600,000 to $700,000. (There is no tiering presently.) The players in the past have proposed a league minimum of $775,000, escalating to $875,000 during the course of the deal.
MLB’s standing proposal of a very slight increase in the minimum salary is a nonstarter. For one, the 5.2-percent increase from 2021 to 2022 doesn’t even keep pace with inflation. And it’s out of line with previous CBAs, as noted here by Travis Sawchik of The Score and Maury Brown of Forbes:
This tells the story. Here's the history of the minimum salary with the proposed hike at the end. The 5% increase would be the smallest ever, sans the agreement coming out of the strike. pic.twitter.com/Ipq4D5cjUq— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) January 13, 2022
There still needs to be movement on the minimum salary, and on the competitive balance tax, among other things, before the two sides can reach a deal. Such progress will require much more bargaining and negotiations.
Perhaps they should meet more often than every 43 days.