(Fourth in a series examining the key issues in baseball’s CBA negotiations.)
To most baseball fans, many of the points of contention between billionaire MLB owners and millionaire players play out on a privileged battleground, spoken in a dialect of financial gobbledygook.
Relief from that unrelatable tableau of taxes, wealth redistribution, and competitive integrity is here:
▪ Expanded playoffs and uniform patches
Expanding the playoffs sits atop the owners’ wish list of changes in the collective bargaining agreement, a big reason why the players are linking their first-ever approval of it to owners approving the core economic items on the players’ wish list.
Currently, 10 teams make the playoffs, the three division winners and two wild cards in each league.
The players have proposed 12 teams playing in an unspecified format that would be different from the owners’ 14-team version.
According to the Associated Press, in the owners’ setup, there would be four wild cards per league. The division winner with the best record would get a bye to the Division Series, with the remaining six qualifiers pairing off in a best-of-three round.
The union also has signaled its OK with owners selling space on their uniforms for corporate-sponsored patches.
The union believes that the ad patches and expanded playoffs will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the owners.
▪ On-field changes
MLB’s stated desire to improve pace of play and increase offense has led to an increasing number of experiments with pitch clocks, robotic umpires, defensive-shift limits, and larger bases.
To date, owners have not proposed any specific rule changes to players, who would want to review data on how any changes would help baseball.
Ideally, owners want players to sign off on changes rather than have commissioner Rob Manfred implement them without player approval. The owners to date have only proposed including the players in the on-field change process.
“We are in the process of still evaluating changes, and frankly, based on the discussions at the table, we saw it as another contentious issue and tried to put it to one side in an effort to get to an agreement on the theory that we could deal with it mid-term of the next agreement,” said Manfred.
▪ Universal DH
The owners have agreed to incorporate the DH into the National League, Manfred confirmed last week. It’s not known whether that is conditional, like the players’ approval of expanded playoffs, but the movement by each side represents concessions.
In the past, owners have likened the creation of 15 more NL jobs to revenue from expanded playoffs. The players see the revenue from the latter exceeding the DH salary bumps.
All of the above are tangible, concrete issues that constitute a skirmish compared with the main theater of operations in which the fight over core economic issues is occurring.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the substance,” said Manfred. “We’re here, they’re there. We need to find a way to bridge the gap.”
Said Players Association executive director Tony Clark, “At the end of the day, a deal is going to get done and the game and the industry is going to move forward.”
Examining the issues in the MLB standoff