(Second in a series examining the key issues in baseball’s CBA negotiations.)
They say youth is wasted on the young. Maybe so, but it’s certainly not wasted on Major League Baseball owners.
Over the course of the last two collective bargaining agreements — a period that coincided with a rise in value-centric analytics — teams discovered that not only are younger players generally providing as much on-field value as older players but they are also a source of cheaper labor.
The economic system is working in their favor, which is precisely why the Players Association, also cognizant that revenues have grown faster than salaries, is proposing a slew of changes geared toward redistributing payroll dollars to its younger members.
The areas of focus are a higher minimum wage, fewer avenues to manipulate service time, and a reduction in the time it takes to become eligible for arbitration and free agency.
It appears that any agreement will see a bump in the minimum salary, which topped out last year at $570,500. The owners have offered an increase that’s less than what the union wants.
In any deal, closing that gap will look like child’s play compared with the other matters, with the owners not keen on any service-time reductions.
Currently, more than three-quarters of players become eligible for arbitration after three years of major league service, with the remaining players reaching eligibility after two. The union would like all players to be eligible after two years.
The owners proposed eliminating arbitration, replacing it with a performance-based wage scale.
Currently, players become eligible for free agency after six years of service. The players propose that for the first year of the next CBA, free agency is determined by six years of service or reaching the age of 29½. In the second and third years, five years of service or being 30½ years old would mean free agency. In years four and five, it would be for five years and back to players at least 29½ years old.
MLB’s counterproposal was to allow players to reach free agency only at the age of 29½, without any service-time requirements.
The players have no interest in the owners’ service-time-free model of free agency, since it could stretch the time a player signed at a young age is under team control to more than a decade.
To reduce service-time manipulation, one idea pitched by the players is that two-year arbitration can be earned by players who win honors such as Rookie of the Year, MVP, Cy Young, or All-Star designation.
“[The owners] will not agree to anything that would allow players to have additional ways to get service time, to combat service-time manipulation,” said lead union negotiator Bruce Meyer. “They told us on all those things, they will not agree.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred cited competitive pressures in smaller markets for why MLB is resistant to change.
“I think we already have teams in smaller markets that struggle to compete,” said Manfred. “Shortening the period of time that they control players makes it even harder for them to compete.
“We don’t see that making it earlier, available earlier, we don’t see that as a positive.”