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Latest MLB labor talks include service time manipulation, draft lottery

Thursday was a fourth straight day of negotiations between players and owners in Florida.

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Feb 23, 2022; Jupiter, FL, USA; Major League Baseball Players Association chief negotiator Bruce Meyer talks to reporters about contract negotiations at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida on February 23, 2022.
Feb 23, 2022; Jupiter, FL, USA; Major League Baseball Players Association chief negotiator Bruce Meyer talks to reporters about contract negotiations at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida on February 23, 2022.
The Palm Beach Post-USA TODAY NETWORK

Thursday was the fourth straight day of labor negotiations in Florida, though a deal doesn’t seem any closer. It was the players union’s turn to make an offer on this day, and the reported focus was on a draft lottery, and attempting to curtail service time manipulation.

The latter is part of the bonus pool system for players with fewer than three years of major league service time and not yet eligible for arbitration. Both players and owners have agreed on the idea of the concepts of the bonus pool and draft lottery, but haven’t yet narrowed down the details.

On the bonus pool, the gap is wide, with owners offering $20 million annually, and players seeking $115 million. Determining which players would qualify for the bonus pool is a convoluted system involving award voting and Wins Above Replacement. The union’s offer on Thursday reduced the number of players eligible for the bonus pool from 27 to 20, per Evan Drellich at The Athletic:

It’s unclear which version of WAR would be used, but folks at Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus have all expressed displeasure with the idea of such a stat being directly tied to salaries.

Depending on how granular this gets, tying salaries to awards voted on by writers could present a conflict of interest. But bonus clauses tied to MVP and Cy Young Award finishes are common, and allowed. Justin Turner, Max Muncy, and Walker Buehler, for instance, all have such clauses in their current contracts.

In the case of Tyler Chatwood, he had a bonus in his contract with the Cubs modified before the 2018 season. Per Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, “the Cubs included a contract clause that provided Chatwood with an automatic $2 million salary boost in 2019 if he received one vote for the NL Cy Young in 2018, and a $4 million raise in 2020 if he received one in both ’18 and ’19.”

As for the draft lottery, the MLBPA proposal had several stipulations, per Jeff Passan at ESPN:

Much like the slight movement the previous two days on minimum salaries (both in the majors and minors, for players on 40-man rosters), it seems like each day of talks this week has ended with the receiving side less than enthused about the latest offer.

That was again the case on Thursday, with the latest summary from Ronald Blum at the Associated Press:

The union came away with the impression that management said it was out of ideas until players offer new proposals on key issues. Clubs say the union hasn’t altered its luxury tax plan since November, and players say they are waiting because management told the union luxury tax usually is among the last items addressed.

It’s unclear when exactly those last items will be addressed. The league on Wednesday imposed an arbitrary deadline of Monday, February 28 to get a new collective bargaining agreement completed, after which it would start canceling regular season games.

There’s still four potential days of bargaining until that deadline. For now, per multiple reports, players and owners will meet again on Friday. Meeting five straight days does count as some form of progress, after there were only six bargaining sessions in the first 81 days of the lockout.