Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association will resume bargaining on core economics later this week.
The first substantive meeting between the two sides since will be on Thursday and is expected to include some new proposals on core economics and competitive issues, such as a draft lottery, sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports.
They last discussed economics over a month ago just outside Dallas. After a series of bargaining sessions in the lead-up to the expiration of the previous collective bargaining agreement, the two sides remained far apart. Last time they talked about core economics, the league told the union that it would counter only if the union agreed to take the reserve system, revenue sharing and arbitration off the table. The union refused, and talks fell apart hours before the CBA expired.
Addressing the media the next day, commissioner Rob Manfred explained that the franchise owners had not implemented the lockout “lightly.”
“We took it out of a desire to drive the process forward to an agreement now,” he said.
Despite that, and with the union believing that the ball was in the league’s court, there have been no economic proposals exchanged since then.
There is no reason to believe that either side will make a final or best offer until pressured by an impending deadline. And the absence of progress since the lockout speaks to that lack of urgency. When the two sides talk on Thursday, we will already be closer to the scheduled start of spring training than we are to the start of the lockout.
Here’s a rundown on where the sides stood when talks broke off in December:
Path to free agency
Currently, players are eligible for free agency after six years of major league service. The union is concerned that this often means players are artificially underpaid during their most productive years and also that teams will manipulate top prospects’ service clocks by keeping them in the minors just long enough to get a seventh year of discounted services.
MLB: The league has proposed replacing service time with an age-based system that would grant all players free agency at the end of the season in which they surpass the age of 29 1/2. Alternatively, it’s happy with the status quo.
Union: In its most recent proposal, the union laid out a system by which a player can reach free agency either by accruing six years of service time or by accruing five years of service and reaching a certain age. It would be phased in over the course of the CBA.
Addressing the media the next day, commissioner Rob Manfred explained that the franchiseowners had not implemented the lockout “lightly.”on could still accrue a full year of service if they achieve certain performance metrics — such as a WAR threshold or winning certain awards.
The current competitive balance tax threshold is $210 million, with escalating penalties for teams that run payrolls surpassing that figure in multiple consecutive seasons.
MLB: Earlier in the negotiations, the league proposed a lowered $180 million threshold with higher penalties for exceeding it. The idea was to pair that change with a payroll minimum of $100 million per club. More recently, it proposed raising the existing CBT to $214 million in 2022, getting up to $220 million by the final season of the next CBA. The league also proposed eliminating the draft penalties for teams that sign free agents who rejected qualifying offers.
Union: The union has proposed raising the threshold to $245 million in the first year of the next CBA, reaching $273 million by the final season.
The union proposed changes to the revenue-sharing system that are ostensibly designed to encourage teams to use the money received to generate further revenue and field a competitive team. The league has rejected all changes to the revenue sharing system, concerned that it would further stratify the big- and small-market teams.
Currently players reach arbitration, where they’re eligible for their first significant raises, after three years of major-league service (plus the top 22% of players with at least two years but not three full years of service).
MLB: The league likes the status quo, which is a central tenet in getting valuable production at a below market-value price. It has also proposed replacing the entire arbitration system with a WAR-based algorithm to determine salaries for players under team control.
Union: The union proposed starting arbitration eligibility after two years of major-league service. It also proposed a pool of money pulled from central revenues to reward top performers among players who don’t qualify for arbitration. The league countered with a smaller pool funded, at least partially, from revenues currently earmarked for other union benefits.
Both sides seem to agree — or at least be amenable to addressing the ways that — the current draft system incentivizes tanking by rewarding the worst teams with the top picks.
MLB: The league proposed an NBA-style lottery for the top three picks. It had previously proposed a system wherein teams couldn’t receive a top-five pick three consecutive seasons (to prevent recidivism tanking) and that proposal is still technically on the table as well as an alternative.
The league also proposed an international draft to replace the current system of international amateur free agency.
Union: The MLBPA proposed a draft order that relies on a lottery for more than just the top three picks, and also includes incentives for small-market teams that do well and penalties for teams that repeatedly finish at the bottom of the pack.
The current playoff field is 10 teams: Three division winners per league plus two wild cards with the best records among non-division winners per league.
MLB: The league proposed a 14-team postseason structure: three division winners and four wild cards per league. Each league’s top team would get a bye and the other division winners would pick their opponents.
Union: The union proposed a 12-team postseason structure based on divisional realignment — each league would be split into two divisions of seven and eight teams.
Among other miscellaneous proposals, the league would package a universal designated hitter with its version of the expanded postseason, and the union pitched allowing the league to put advertisement patches on uniforms to generate further revenue.