If nothing else, two meetings in as many days between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association brought into focus the core economic issues that will most define the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement.
But the in-person get-togethers also reinforced the gulf between the sides on many of those issues, did little to boost optimism that a deal will be reached before spring training is scheduled to open in three weeks, and even left many players listening into the meeting via Zoom feeling disappointed, according to a source with knowledge of the talks.
In a one-hour meeting Tuesday at the players union office in New York, MLB representatives withdrew a proposal to reform the salary arbitration system. One day earlier, the players agreed to drop bids for earlier free agency based on an age-related structure and a dramatic reduction in revenue-sharing money for small-market teams, changes that the league regarded as nonstarters before the owner-initiated lockout began on Dec. 2.
It appears, then, that upcoming talks will center on the union’s desire to improve pay for younger players and achieve more competitive balance and the owners’ pursuit of expanded playoffs. MLB made proposals on the issues that matter to the players, who nevertheless believe they aren’t close to achieving their goals.
MLB moved to raise the minimum salary to $615,000, an increase from their previous pitch of $600,000 but far from the players’ request of $750,000. The $615,000 minimum is also fixed and doesn’t allow for teams to raise it at their discretion.
The league agreed to the concept of a bonus pool to raise the salaries of entry-level (pre-arbitration) players based on Wins Above Replacement and postseason awards. But while MLB proposed a $10 million bonus pool, the players are seeking $105 million.
MLB also didn’t move closer to the players’ request to raise the luxury-tax threshold to $245 million (the owners want a $214 million bar in 2022), according to sources. The sides also remain at odds over how many teams should be included in a draft lottery. The players want an eight-team lottery, while the league and owners are focused on three teams.
The league and players agreed to continue bargaining later this week on issues that aren’t related to core economics. The players likely will review MLB’s latest proposals before initiating the next meeting over economics.
Time is becoming a factor. If an agreement isn’t reached by the end of next week, spring training will almost certainly be pushed back. If the sides can’t come together by late February, the scheduled March 31 start of the regular season likely would be threatened.