First in a series examining the key issues in baseball’s CBA negotiations.
The notion that the competitive integrity of Major League Baseball is out of whack sits near or at the top of the players’ wish list for changes in the next collective bargaining agreement.
The idea of owners and teams “tanking” — not trying to win in order to gain a spot high in the draft — chafes at players’ competitive instincts as much as they see it as an excuse for teams to pay players less.
The three chief routes taken by the players to combat tanking are revenue sharing, the draft, and certain aspects of the competitive balance tax.
The idea behind revenue sharing — nearly half of local revenues trickle down — is for bigger markets to help out smaller markets unable to compete fairly in the free agent market. Players believe those dollars are not being put toward improving the on-field product. They want to reduce the amount of revenue sharing by $100 million.
MLB is not interested in any changes to revenue sharing, the union says, and commissioner Rob Manfred offered clues as to why.
“Taking $100 million away from teams that are already struggling to put a competitive product on the field, I don’t see how that’s helpful,” said Manfred last week. “Most people who understand the game realize that in our smaller markets it’s a lot harder to win than it is in our bigger markets.”
The union’s chief negotiator, Bruce Meyer, said, “We’ve offered to build in advantages for small-market teams” and “we believe our proposals on revenue sharing will incentivize teams to compete.”
When it comes to changes to the amateur draft, the operating principle in dispute is that there would not be a so-called “race to the bottom” for multiple seasons in a row by teams without hope if winning that race would not result in the guarantee of coveted high draft picks. That’s the multiyear playbook executed by the Astros and Cubs over the last decade. The union sees prolonged rebuilding efforts as an exploitation of draft rules in the guise of a payroll-reduction excuse.
MLB has responded with an NBA-style lottery involving the three worst teams each year. The union would want more teams involved, with the Associated Press reporting it wanted the eight bottom finishers to go in that lottery.
The union wants disincentives for teams that lose for multiple years in a row and to build incentives with draft rewards such as a compensation pick for small-market teams that improve their on-field performance by winning more.
When it comes to the CBT and the draft, the current setup punishes a team with a payroll over $250 million by moving its draft position back 10 spots. The union wants to eliminate that clause for competitive reasons as much as for the salary drag it creates. The union is not proposing eliminating financial penalties for exceeding tax thresholds, it only wants to eliminate the non-financial penalties.