Common sense tells you that life in major league baseball for the owners and the players is good in that both sides are making record profits. That’s a major reason there’s been labor peace for more than 20 years.
Lately we’ve been hearing about “snags” and “gridlock” as the sides negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, and we’ve even heard the words “lockout” and “strike.” But seriously, does anyone really believe it could come to that?
The current CBA expires Thursday, but don’t consider that a drop-dead date to avoid a labor impasse. Commissioner Rob Manfred said at the GM meetings in early November that baseball proceeds under the old CBA until a new agreement is reached. The sides have the rest of the offseason and through spring training to hash out a tentative agreement.
Considering this is a $9 billion industry, common sense says an agreement will be reached. But that’s not to say there aren’t major issues that need to be resolved. And we’re sure not all of them will be. Some will be tabled, but enough should get done to put a new agreement in place.
The Players Association can point to a few issues it feels restrict earning potential — draft pick compensation in free agency, draft pool signing limitations, the possibility of an international draft.
Owners feel these limits are necessary to keep costs down and stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold. Obviously, the players would like to have no luxury tax threshold, creating a truly free market. That will never happen.
“The one aspect of the collective bargaining agreement that may not be resolved any time soon is this question of draft choice compensation, which is probably what could change the market one way or the other,” the Mets’ Sandy Alderson said at the GM meetings. “I don’t think the new rules are going to get more onerous to the players, and it’s not clear whether they’ll be less onerous for clubs.”
The players can argue, and rightly so, that they should get a bigger share of the money coming in from major local and national TV deals. But owners can rightly point to diminishing trends in ratings and subscriptions for major cable outlets.
While CBA negotiations continue, the player movement market may be slow. The luxury tax threshold is definitely an issue for the big-market teams. Six teams are projected to pay the luxury tax this year, according to the Associated Press, at the $189 million threshold — the Yankees ($27 million), Dodgers ($25 million), Red Sox ($6 million), Tigers ($3.9 million), Cubs ($3.7 million), and Giants ($3 million).
Big-market owners are trying to get revenue sharing reduced or eliminated for certain markets. They charge that some teams don’t spend their revenue-sharing profits as intended — which is to improve the major league roster — and that some of the money is simply pocketed.
There are definite flaws in the system for both sides, but they’ve managed to live with these issues while owners make a handsome profit and players make a wonderful living.
What’s wrong with a player accepting a qualifying offer and earning $17.2 million for one year? It’s been good for some teams because they keep the player they might have otherwise lost. But teams that extend qualifying offers are also after the draft pick they would receive as compensation if the player rejects the offer and signs with another team. In some cases, the team regrets extending the qualifying offer — such as the Orioles last season, when Matt Wieters accepted and that limited the team financially in its pursuit of pitching.
The idea of an international draft is denounced by the union because foreign players have the right to make their own deal as true free agents. There are still restrictions, of course. Big-market teams used to be able to spend whatever they wanted to secure a top foreign player, but now they’re subject to a spending cap — which the Red Sox were found to violate last year, resulting in five contracts being voided.
Manfred has remained optimistic when discussing a new agreement.
“There’s certainly uncertainty until they do [reach an agreement],” agent Scott Boras said at the GM meetings. “I’m sure they’re going to want to know the impact of it. Why wouldn’t you?”
There are other issues, which according to major league sources on both sides have created great dialogue.
The schedule, for instance, is a real issue for the players. Some of the biggest complaints involve how the 162-game schedule is jammed into six months. Players want more days off. They claim that travel has gotten tougher with day games after night games.
Owners could go for a 158-game schedule, but that would require major concessions from the players for owners to give up two home dates.
Roster size is also an issue. I have proposed a “true” 25-man roster where a team deactivates its four starting pitchers not pitching that game and adds four other players. This would even eliminate situations in which the Red Sox found themselves needing to use Steven Wright as a pinch runner, resulting in Wright’s season-shortening injury.
Again, this is costly to the owners, but in many respects it may prevent injuries and could give some players more rest while giving others more service time.
Let’s face it, it’s all about the money. You can see why discussions on these issues can get heated when both sides dig into their positions.
About a month ago, we quoted a major league executive who said that the talks weren’t going as smoothly as had been portrayed.
But common sense should prevail. Maybe not every issue will get resolved, especially to the players’ satisfaction, and that would be in keeping with labor talks around the country, where the worker has had to make concessions to ownership. Yes, players are not the average American worker, we know, but major league owners are wealthy businessmen and they’d like to stay that way.
Apropos of nothing
1. Reader Bob Carvin reminds us there are eight living Boston Braves: Johnny Antonelli, Clint Conatser, Gene Conley, Del Crandall, Harry MacPherson, Dick Manville, Luis Olmo, and Bert Thiel.
2. The Astros signed free agent outfielder Josh Reddick to a very reasonable four-year, $52 million deal and traded two decent pitching prospects to the Yankees for catcher Brian McCann, while getting New York to pick up about a third of the money owed McCann. Sick of coming up short, Houston has added two major bats (and could add a third) and solidified its catching. Now the Astros can concentrate on a pitcher to add to their rotation, such as free agent Rich Hill or trade targets Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, or Sonny Gray.
3. Former Red Sox pitcher David “Boo” Ferriss was a tremendous guy. He died last week at his home in Mississippi at age 94. He pitched for the Sox from 1945-50.
4. How could David Ortiz finish sixth in MVP voting? Did nobody watch him this past season?
5. I still believe Mookie Betts got robbed in MVP voting. The award is not for the best stats, it’s for most valuable.
6. I vote for steroid guys who I believe are Hall of Famers (Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens). I believe Manny Ramirez is Hall-worthy, too, but he will not get my vote because of his repeated violations. The only thing I wrestle with is that Manny never tested positive until the final act of his career. I expect Jeff Bagwell and possibly Tim Raines to be elected this year. First-time nominee Ivan Rodriguez should reach in his first ballot, but suspicion of PED use will likely put him in the Mike Piazza category where he’ll have to wait a year or two. Vladimir Guerrero is also unlikely to get in on his first ballot, but will be strongly considered over time.
7. The Red Sox should bring back Koji Uehara. He may have suffered a couple of injuries, but his quality of work when healthy was top-shelf. You may not pencil him is as the primary setup man, but the 41-year-old serves as a strong contrast to the hard throwers.
8. Former catcher David Ross said he will sit down with his agent after the weekend to go over the overtures he’s received, which range from broadcasting to coaching to managing and scouting. Ross wants to stay in the game but also wants more family time than he had as a player.
Updates on nine
1. Mike Dee, former CEO, Padres — According to a major league source, Dee won’t be unemployed for too long. The former Red Sox COO and Miami Dolphins CEO is already receiving interest. Our source said Dee will likely surface in sports media or sports philanthropy. It was puzzling that Padres ownership let go of Dee while keeping GM A.J. Preller, who committed fraud against the Red Sox by withholding medical information on lefty Drew Pomeranz.
2. Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees — Even before he was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League, this 19-year-old received impressive evaluations for not only his talent but his demeanor. “He’s got that aura about him. That big league aura. It’s like a confidence you see in very talented players and he’s got it. You never want to compare a shortstop in the Yankees organization to Derek Jeter, but Jeter had that ‘it’ about him at a young age as well,” said a special assistant to an NL GM.
3. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, free agent — There’s “a healthy amount” of interest in the slugger, according to a GM who has had some discussions on Encarnacion. The Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, and Astros are in the discussion, and there could be more teams. Encarnacion and Yoenis Cespedes are the big-money free agent hitters, but their salary requirements will likely not yield a quick signing because of the luxury-tax threshold uncertainty. “Normally, teams would be very aggressive in getting both of these hitters signed, but right now you have to stay back a little,” said an AL GM.
4. Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers — Teams are sniffing around on Martinez, who would hold the same kind of value for a team as free agent Carlos Beltran, though Beltran can still play the outfield. Martinez, like Beltran, is a well-respected leader and switch-hitter, and he could catch or play first base in a pinch. Martinez has traditionally been a better righthanded hitter in his career, but last season he had an .812 OPS vs. lefthanders and .832 vs. righthanders. Dave Dombrowski signed Martinez to two four-year contracts with Detroit, and his current deal has two years remaining at $18 million per. When you consider what Martinez makes, it’s amazing the Red Sox got away with paying David Ortiz “only” $16 million.
5. Stephen Drew, 2B/SS, free agent — It seems Drew has nine lives. He reinvented himself last season with the Nationals as a part-time player (.266 average, .864 OPS). There are teams, however, such as the Angels and the Dodgers, looking for a full-time second baseman and Drew could be a good fit at either spot.
6. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, free agent — The Nationals, Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers are emerging as possible destinations for Chapman. We’re not completely sure whether the Cubs are out of the picture.
7. C.J. Wilson, LHP, free agent — Wilson will likely have some place to pitch in 2017. The Marlins are looking for that type of low-cost veteran to plug into their rotation. He may also be a fit in Seattle and Baltimore.
8. Justin Masterson, RHP, free agent — Masterson is another reclamation project piquing the interest of teams such as the Marlins and Twins, who are looking to hit the jackpot with a surprise pitcher. Masterson’s physical problems seem to be in the past as he attempts a comeback at age 31.
9. Mark Melancon, RHP, free agent — Expected to be hot commodity in free agency, Melancon said he had “no preference” as to where he ends up. Melancon has pitched for the Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, Pirates, and Nationals, and they may be interested again. The Dodgers, Giants, and Rangers are also potential landing spots.
From the Bill Chuck files — “We are running out of active players who played in the 20th century! The only ones left are Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Joe Nathan, A.J. Pierzynski, and Bartolo Colon.” Also, “Rick Porcello certainly needs to thank his bullpen for his Cy Young victory over Justin Verlander. Porcello bequeathed 11 runners to his relievers and none scored; Verlander bequeathed 15 and eight scored. Had Verlander had better relief, he would have led the league in ERA.” . . . Happy birthday, Jonathan Van Every (37), Jose Tartabull (78), and Bill Short (79).
Second to none
The Twins’ Brian Dozier turned in one of the most productive seasons ever by a second baseman in 2016. According to Baseball- Reference.com, he became just the fourth second baseman to hit at least 40 homers and drive in 95 or more runs in a season while slugging better than .525 with an OPS of at least .850. The fab four:
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.