Until this week, it didn’t seem like spring training would start in time on February 16. And it was certainly highly questionable whether the regular season would open as planned on March 31.
As things stand now, spring training and/or the season could very well be postponed. However, there is at least a glimmer of hope that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association may be able to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement that would end the foreclosure.
MLB locked out the players on December 2, just hours after the previous CBA expired.
There were no negotiations then until the two sides met Monday and Tuesday, both in person in New York and via videoconference. While there is no indication that the parties are close to a deal, it should be seen as positive that negotiations have finally taken place.
The most encouraging aspect of the talks is that both sides seem to at least have the framework for a potential deal. That didn’t seem to be the case, as recently as Monday morning, when the parties seemed to be comparing apples and oranges on some of the key points.
First, the players agreed to raise the threshold for players to become free agents after six full years of Major League service time, in effect since the arrival of Free Agency in 1976. The players had wanted the threshold to be lowered.
The owners then agreed not to raise the service time threshold for players to qualify for arbitration to three full years of service time. Currently, the top 22% of players with more than two years but less than three years of service can enter an arbitration hearing.
The MLBPA requires that all players with a minimum of two full years be eligible for arbitration, returning to the system that was in effect from 1974-86.
With those two hurdles out of the way, at least there is now a path to more fruitful negotiations.
The owners have agreed to the union’s request to send additional funds to pre-arbitration eligibility players from MLB’s central revenues.
The owners have bid $10 million annually and the players are asking $105 million annually. Admittedly, it’s a big gap, but at least it’s a starting point.
MLB also increased its offer to raise the minimum salary for players with less than one year of service from $600,000 to $615,000, which would increase it from the current minimum of $570,500. The players want a minimum of $775,000.
It is not unreasonable to think that the parties can bridge the $160,000 gap.
However, there are other issues that remain to be resolved.
The players want the owners to reduce the income distribution between the clubs by $30 million annually. The MLBPA also wants new rules regarding manipulating service time and “refueling,” a phrase used when teams break down and start rebuilding.
The owners don’t seem too keen on making changes to those areas.
Teams have proposed that any player called up in August or September who continues to qualify for Rookie of the Year the following season — fewer than 130 at bats for batters, less than 50 innings for pitchers — would count toward additional amateur draft picks according to their team. plan to address service time.
Whether both sides can reach a compromise on all these issues in time for spring training to begin remains to be seen. However, at least a framework for a deal is developing, which is more than could be said at the start of the week.