A new and highly anticipated proposal from MLB owners was not well received by players on Saturday, leaving the sides roughly 2½ weeks to reach a deal or else force a late start to the 2022 regular season.
Given the significant differences that remain in several key areas, the threat to an interrupted baseball season is real.
Negotiators from the Major League Baseball Players Association left an afternoon meeting at MLB headquarters in midtown Manhattan with a comprehensive proposal in their hands to be studied over the weekend. They left also knowing a deal has to be struck by late February or early March before MLB would decide to delay the season.
In his remarks on Thursday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that the upcoming proposal was a “good proposal.”
The initial reaction from the players, according to a source familiar with the proposal, was one of being underwhelmed by its goodness.
Underwhelmed has been a familiar refrain in these talks, which have been held at a non-urgent pace since the owners locked out the players on Dec. 2.
The changes from prior proposals on key issues such as the competitive balance tax thresholds, minimum salaries, and pre-arbitration bonus pools did not differ to a significant degree, especially if measuring by mid-points, a useful gauge given the late hour.
The first lockout session took place in January after a 42-day cone of silence. Saturday’s talks were just the fifth since the lockout began, and their first confab over core economic concerns in 11 days.
That the sides could not hold substantive talks for that long with the start to spring training so close — this Wednesday’s start date is unofficially sure to pass — was only the latest loud signal of the enormity of the remaining gap. In that 11-day span, the owners’ request to have a federal mediator was swatted away by the players, US Labor Secretary and former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh offered his services to resolve the conflict, and the owners spent three days together in Orlando formulating what would be put forth in Saturday’s proposal.
On the CBT, the economic structure that acts as a de facto salary cap by imposing penalties on clubs whose payrolls exceed the threshold, the owners edged upward in years 3, 4, and 5 of the next collective bargaining agreement: from $214 million to $216 million, $216 million to $218 million, and $220 million to $222 million. The first two years stayed at $214 million.
The new thresholds proposed by owners are still accompanied by new tax penalties much stiffer than those in the old agreement. The owners did reduce draft pick penalties in the new proposal.
The union has proposed starting with a $245 million threshold (lowered from $248 million) — a difference ranging from $23 million-$31 million a year.
On minimum salaries, the owners used a “pick one from column A or column B” approach.
The first option is for a new minimum salary of $630,000, with owners able to go above that number if they so choose.
The other option is a tiered approach already submitted that featured no changes to players with 0-1 and 1-2 years of service ($615,000 and $650,000) and a $25,000 increase, from $700,000 to $725,000 for players with two or more years of service. Owners would not be permitted to deviate from these numbers.
The current minimum salary is $570,500.
The players want the new minimum salary to start at $775,000, a difference of $145,000 in the column A system, a $160,000 difference for new players in column B.
On the pre-arbitration bonus pool issue, the owners have come around to the players’ idea about the bonus pool but there are stark differences in how big that pot of money is.
The owners upped their bonus pool allocation from $10 million to $15 million, the same $5 million change the players moved downwards, from $105 million to $100 million in their latest proposal. There’s now an $85 million difference in opinion over the amount of the bonus pool, down from $95 million – again, nowhere near a middle ground.
Other areas addressed were service-time manipulation issues and draft signing bonus amounts.
Other differences that remain include expanded playoffs (owners want 14 teams, the players 12), revenue sharing, and a draft lottery.
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.