Another day of collective bargaining brought about only additional consternation between Major League Baseball and the Players Association as the calendar inches closer to a delay in the start of the season.
For the second day in a row, the sides met Tuesday at a spring-training ballpark in Jupiter, Fla., with the players taking their turn to revise a previous proposal. The pitch, according to sources familiar with the meeting, included a 5% decrease in the number of two-year players who would be eligible for salary arbitration but annual increases in the minimum salary from a starting point of $775,000 in the first year of the deal.
The players’ proposal was characterized by sources as a proportional response to MLB’s Monday proposal, in which the owners agreed to add a total of only $5 million to the bonus pool for pre-arbitration (entry-level) players. But MLB’s number-crunching produced a different interpretation, sources said, with the belief that the reductions in arbitration eligibliity didn’t offset the raises in minimum salary.
And once again, neither side has made a proposal that includes changes to their stance on the competitive-balance (luxury) tax, an issue that is shaping up to be central to reaching an agreement.
The sides agreed to meet again in-person Wednesday, although the last two days produced such little movement that MLB reportedly renewed its suggestion to bring in a federal mediator to help push the process along with the scheduled opening day now only 37 days away. The players’ union reportedly maintained that negotiations should continue without third-party intervention.
In the players’ latest proposal, 75% of second-year players would receive salary arbitration, down from 80% in their previous offer but up from 22% in every year since 2013. According to one estimate, approximately six players per year would be affected by the reduction. MLB has been steadfast in not budging on increasing the number of arbitration-eligible players.
On the issue of minimum salary, the players’ proposal calls for a $30,000 increase each year over the five-year agreement to a high of $895,000 in 2026. MLB is proposing either a fixed $630,000 minimum salary or increases from $615,000 to $725,000 by the final year. Baseball’s minimum salary last year ($570,500) trailed the NFL ($660,000), NHL ($750,000), and NBA ($925,258).
One area where the sides appear to be getting closer: the number of teams that would be included in a draft lottery. The players cut back their request from the eight-worst teams to seven one day after MLB raised its bid from the three-worst teams to four.
Locked-out pitchers and catchers were slated to report to spring training last week. With camps remaining closed, MLB announced last Friday that spring-training games won’t be played until at least March 5.
MLB officials have indicated that they believe a deal needs to be made by Feb. 28 in order for the season to begin on March 31 after a four-week spring training. Two weeks ago, commissioner Rob Manfred said missing games would be a “disastrous outcome.”
It’s worth noting that the owners could also rescind the 84-day lockout at any time, open spring training, and even begin the season while continuing to negotiate with the players.