Well, any surge of optimism that Major League players will soon be taking the field was loudly and swiftly doused Saturday, creating more anxiety and concern the start of the regular season will be delayed.
Major League Baseball presented a comprehensive new set of proposals in hopes of accelerating talks towards a labor deal, but Major League Players Association officials and several players say they were thoroughly unimpressed, and did not view it as progress.
The cold-hearted reality now is that 72 days since MLB imposed the lockout in hopes of accelerating talks towards a new labor deal, MLB and the union are barely any closer now towards a deal than they were at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 2.
The two sides met for only the fifth time Saturday, and the first in 11 days on core economic issues, but there was little progress towards a deal.
Spring training will now be delayed.
Major League Baseball has no plans to make an official announcement on the delay, but one look at the calendar is needed to know that it’s impossible for pitchers and catchers to begin workouts in Arizona and Florida on Thursday.
If no agreement is miraculously reached by the end of next week, MLB will start announcing the cancellation of spring training games that are scheduled to begin Feb. 26, perhaps a week at a time. While spring training games are a revenue stream for teams, players don’t begin receiving paychecks until Opening Day.
The deadline for an agreement to preserve the start of the season is about Feb. 28, and even that would leave teams and players scrambling to get ready for the March 31 start of the season. Players still need to travel to spring training camps, foreign players must get their visas, there are 197 unsigned arbitration-eligible players, and nearly 300 unsigned free agents.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed far too much optimism, or simply underestimated the MLBPA’s resolve, when he announced Thursday that MLB would be submitting a strong proposal that could lead to an agreement to assure the season will start on time.
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MLB submitted a comprehensive 130-page proposal covering every facet of the collective bargaining agreement during their meeting in New York, but the players’ initial response was disappointment, saying it was “miniscule movement given the calendar.’’
The players union is expected to submit counter proposals within a week, but unless there’s a dramatic movement by either side, Opening Day is now in serious jeopardy.
Major League Baseball slightly enhanced their proposals on several economic issues Saturday. MLB increased their luxury tax by $2 million, starting at $214 million for the first two years, $216 million in 2024, $218 million in 2025 and $222 million in 2026. They also lowered the penalties for exceeding the luxury tax. Teams will no longer lose draft picks unless their payroll exceeds $234 million, a figure that only four teams have ever eclipsed.
The union’s last proposal was a $245 million luxury tax threshold, a decrease of $3 million from their last offer.
The minimum salary for players with less than one year of major-league service, which was $570,500 last year, was raised to $615,000 for the first year, $650,000 for players with at least one year of service, and $725,000 for players with at least two years of service but not yet eligible for salary arbitration. It also provides the union a flat-rate minimum salary of $630,000 with no cap, if preferred. The union is seeking a $775,000 minimum salary.
MLB increased its bonus pool for non-arbitration eligible players to $15 million, an increase of $5 million, matching the union’s $5 million movement from $105 million to $100 million in their last proposal.
Players who aren’t eligible for arbitration will receive an increase of about $200 million during the duration of the five-year collective bargaining agreement, while the union’s proposal would provide about $500 million.
MLB also has increased the amateur draft and international signings pool by $23 million, and that any player who submits to a pre-draft physical must be offered at least 75% of its slot value. Teams can no longer refuse to sign a player who fails a post-draft physical as the New York Mets did last year with pitcher Kumar Rocker.
MLB already has agreed to adopt a universal DH, a position that paid an average of about $9 million in the American League last year. It also has eliminated draft compensation in free agency. The union has agreed to expand the playoffs field from 10 teams to 12 teams, while MLB wants it increased to 14 teams.
The two sides also have agreed to a draft lottery, but while the union is seeking an eight-team lottery, MLB has offered three teams.
The union and MLB still are trying to determine a mechanism to accrue a full year of service before salary arbitration if they reach certain awards or performance levels. MLB has proposed that a six-person joint committee would develop a WAR statistic to increase the pay for the top young players, while giving $1 million bonuses to non-arbitration eligible players who win the MVP or Cy Young; $500,000 to second-place finishes and Rookie of the Year winners; $250,00 to third-place finishes and runner-up Rookies of the Year, and $100,000 finishing fourth or fifth in the MVP/Cy Young balloting and a third-place finish for Rookie of the Year.
Teams also would receive two extra draft picks if their rookies finish in the top three in the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year races as an incentive for teams to not manipulate service time.
MLB still has steadfastly refused to move on any proposal decreasing their revenue sharing among clubs while the union is seeking a $30 million reduction.
“Where the clubs have been and remain unwilling to move is in response to player proposals that we believe will undermine the competitive balance in our game,’’ Manfred said Thursday. “For example, the players insistence that we reduce revenue sharing will without question lead to less competition, not more. Changing the current agreement by taking resources from clubs with relatively limited revenue will make the game less competitive.’’
Yet, while Manfred said Thursday that he was optimistic that their new set of proposals could lead to a deal to avert a delay to the start of the season, there’s a growing fear that the baseball season could be abbreviated because of a work stoppage for the first time since 1994-1995.
“I see missing games as a disastrous outcome for this industry,’’ Manfred said. “ And we’re committed to making an agreement in an effort to avoid that. …
“The clubs, the owners, fully understand how important it is to our fans that we get the game on the field as soon as possible.’’
In the meantime, the MLB negotiators insist they have a much better deal on the table in all areas than the previous CBA, while the union has barely budged from its original positions. It offered last week to have the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service enter talks, which the union rejected.
The union remain upset that MLB hasn’t done enough to address their concerns on service-time manipulation, compelling teams to be competitive, and paying the young players, with 1,145 of the 1,670 players on major league rosters last year earning under $1 million, according to the Associated Press.
A new day, a fifth round of negotiations, and the standstill only continues.
The only thing moving is the clock.
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