It’s the most important story in the Major League Baseball world right now, by a considerable margin, and I’m here to tell you the less we hear about it the better.
I’m talking about the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, of course, which are taking place behind the scenes in advance of the current CBA’s expiration in just about four weeks. The CBA governs the relationship between the owners and players, sets out the way the sport is played, and, of course, deals with how the money is distributed. To say that the negotiations were expected to be contentious is like saying the negotiations between a lion and a wildebeest are expected to be contentious.
In other recent negotiations between the sides, following two CBAs that wound up looking awfully lopsided in favor of the owners, things got so contentious that they spilled repeatedly into public view as the sides sought to gain a tiny bit of leverage in the public forum. It’s ugly stuff that no fans want to see, that the sides don’t really need to be doing, and that signals a deal ain’t remotely close.
So, that is all to say, the more the sides can negotiate privately without leaking statements about how RIDICULOUS AND EGREGIOUS the other side is being, the better.
The latest updates, thankfully, are more on the simply informative side of things, rather than full of loaded revelations.
First, from Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, with the latest offer from the players:
— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) November 5, 2021
From the sound of things, the movement on the big economic stuff is still pretty small. The players appear to have some aggressive asks, but that’s where they have to start, given how things have gone. The precise details are still unknown (which is probably a good thing!), but there is a sense of what the players are looking to accomplish:
As previously reported, the union’s first proposal would have allowed players to become eligible for arbitration after two years, instead of three. The union in May also proposed a change to draft order, increases in the minimum salary, raises to the CBT thresholds, changes to revenue sharing between clubs, changes to the way service time is calculated, and bonuses for players who have yet to reach arbitration. Under certain circumstances, some players would be able to reach free agency sooner than six years, as well.
This latest proposal from the players comes in response, you’ll recall, to the league’s offer of a salary floor and free agency at age 29.5 years old (but also a lowering of the luxury tax and an increase in penalties). The owners obviously also want an international draft and expanded playoffs.
We didn’t have all the details, but it seemed an aggressive starting point for the league. This is how it goes. There’s a large gap to bridge, and it’s going to require more proposals and the time pressure of a deadline to get the sides to really move.
Meanwhile, Jeff Passan talked generally about the state of discussions and reminds everyone that, yeah, at least some form of lockout is highly likely:
20 Questions, Offseason Edition
What is free agency going to look like, who’s spending, details on a potential lockout, why the trade market could get busy soon, a massive number of potential QO guys, big names that could be dealt and tons more at ESPN+: https://t.co/xZ4WIp9lms pic.twitter.com/9cDpNaUmyM
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 5, 2021
I remain optimistic that no time will be missed next season, and maybe not even any of Spring Training. I think a deal coming together over the next four weeks, when the sides are so far apart on just how significant the structural changes should be, is pretty unlikely. My realistic hope is that the sides can agree on all the non-core economic stuff by then, and maybe even SOME of the economic stuff, and then a lockout lasts only a bit into January.
Meanwhile, after the CBA five years ago did very little to change any fundamentals of the sport, something to keep in mind about the expectations this time around:
I am not at the table. I am not in the room. The one thing that seems certain with the upcoming MLB labor deal is it will not be some “slight” variation of the current deal as portrayed by some.
— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) November 5, 2021
In other words, we could be in for some very serious changes to the draft, free agency, arbitration, and so on.