Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
As spring nears, MLB sparks talks with players' union, but new proposal does not thaw lockout's chill

As spring nears, MLB sparks talks with players' union, but new proposal does not thaw lockout's chill

  • Updated
  • 0
Cardinals Spring Baseball

An employee of Roger Dean Stadium locks a gate, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Jupiter, Fla. Major League Baseball has delayed the start of its season by at least two weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak as well as suspended the rest of its spring training game schedule. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Major League Baseball’s proposal Thursday to the players’ union restarted negotiations on issues that led to the ongoing lockout but did little to accelerate them as the start of spring training totters on the horizon.

During a lunchtime meeting, held virtually, representatives from the MLB Players Association received the first substantive proposal from the owners in more than 40 days. While MLB presented tweaks to the game’s economics, including an alteration to arbitration’s structure, the proposal did not touch core elements such as free agency or apparently do more than previous offers to address the union’s wish to strongly disincentive tanking.

While the first talks since Dec. 1 are better than no talks before Feb. 1, the discussions Thursday were not encouraging from the union’s viewpoint, according to sources and multiple reports.

One described the proposal as uninspiring.

As with almost everything in Major League Baseball — from trade discussions to naming playoff starters to labor disputes — nothing compels resolution better than a deadline. Neither side expected meetings on major issues during the holidays because there was no date, no event imminent to create urgency. Even the expected start of spring training in mid-February is the first alarm, and each day it becomes more likely the owners will hit snooze and postpone camp.

The real wakeup call comes closer to March 1 when, without time to prepare, regular-season games are in jeopardy, along with the revenues and salaries that go with them.

Major League Baseball sought to invite renewed negotiations with the union by making Thursday’s new proposal and convening for the first time since imposing the lockout on Dec. 2.

Introducing the designated hitter to the National League was part of the proposal. Two sources said the universal DH is something both sides agree upon and now expect to be part of any new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Expanded playoffs remain a priority for MLB and a valuable bargaining chip for the union. The owners want a 14-team field, up from 10.

The union’s goals remain to increase wages for younger players, address restraints on the free-agent market, and install guardrails that make it less appealing for teams to throw gutter balls and bow out of contention.

In Thursday’s proposal, MLB scrapped the “Super 2” tier of arbitration that previously had placed a slice of players with just less than three years of service time into the arbitration process that awarded higher salaries. The new structure would set aside a pool to pay those players based on a statistical formula, like the one the Cardinals and other teams use to impose salaries for players with two or fewer years of service time. The concept would increase salaries for younger players but also invite a formulaic approach the union finds unpalatable. By eliminating Super 2, MLB could also begin to address service time manipulation, a frustration for the union because it keeps top rookie talents off opening day rosters.

According to The Associated Press and other outlets, MLB’s proposal addressed that concern by awarding a team an additional draft pick based on having a highly touted prospect on the roster and that same prospect finish high in award voting before reaching arbitration.

That added draft pick, according to ESPN, could be in an international draft. Such a thing does not exist currently but owners have sought an international draft to replace the current signing period and bidding on teenage players.

As in previous negotiations, Thursday’s proposal also included a draft lottery for the early picks to confront tanking, according to a source. The two sides have disagreed on the number of teams that should be eligible for the lottery, and the new proposal from MLB stated teams could not be included in the lottery in three consecutive drafts, per ESPN.

Whether the new proposal made strides in the players’ direction, incremental adjustments, or just ornamental ones will be clearer in the coming days. No negotiations were scheduled as of Thursday evening so the union can digest that day’s exchange.

After the hourlong meeting, the union’s officials and legal counsel began reviewing the full scope of the proposal, plucking the fine print for any sour notes. What was immediately clear is the proposal did not change the current free-agent eligibility to less than six years of service time or to age-based access. Also left untouched was the Competitive Balance Threshold that acts as a soft cap and the union sees as a governor on the open market.

The union has sought to increase it and adjust revenue sharing.

While a variety of changes, including some in MLB’s offer Thursday, are appealing to the union, the core economics are proposed as a complete structure, taken all together, not a la carte. While descriptions of proposals tend to fixate on individual elements — eliminating Super 2, younger free agency, draft lottery, raising CBT, etc. — it’s the full clockwork and how mechanisms mesh that the sides must consider, not selectively tweezing out favorite gears. A gain in one aspect is only as good for the owners or union as what they give to get it.

How the MLBPA responds to Thursday’s proposal will be revealing, and if a counterproposal is forthcoming the union will give the owners and fans insight into aspects it seeks to change significantly and values most. That would be a notable advance in negotiations.

Based upon the “Summer Camp” the union and owners agreed upon in 2020 as a runup to that shortened season, a four-week long training period would precede the start of the regular season. With opening day currently set for March 31 — the Cardinals are to play that day at noon in Pittsburgh — that suggests an on-time start would need an agreement on a new CBA by the first week of that month.

Urgency is one page away on the calendar.

Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News