It’s been 2 and a half months since Major League Baseball’s owners locked out the players, creating a work stoppage that is now threatening the start of spring training and the MLB season. Meetings have been infrequent and inconsistent, making it hard to keep up with exactly what is going on in the negotiations between the MLBPA and the owners, but that’s what you have articles like these for! Despite the minimal news, there is news, and it tells a troubling story of where the negotiations currently stand and what it could mean for the 2022 season.
First, the base of the issue: money. Any time that there is a lockout (the owners barring the players) or a strike (the players refusing to play), the main reasoning for the issue is a disagreement on something monetary. This lockout is absolutely no different. The players feel that, despite the revenue created by the sport of baseball generally growing over the past couple years (aside from the pandemic), they have not seen in equal increase in wages. The owners are making more money, and the people who play the game aren’t getting pay increases to reflect that. It’s a fair argument, and because owners do not release the numbers on what they bring in through MLB’s revenue sharing system, it’s hard to concretely agree or disagree. Luckily it’s not up to us to choose, but it also makes it hard for the players and owners to come to an agreement on what is fair. Proposals so far from the MLBPA have hinged on a pair of issues: a raising of the minimum players’ salary, or a salary floor, and the raising of the Competitive Balance Tax. I know, I had to look that second one up too. Basically the Competitive Balance Tax or CBT is a number that, if the total amount being paid to any team’s 40 man roster exceeds it, triggers an extra tax for that team. It’s a level below the luxury tax that serves to deter owners in bigger markets from completely outspending smaller market teams.
Ok, so simple right? Let’s just agree on the salary floor and the CBT and call it a day. Well, it’s of course not that easy. First of all, there are numerous ancillary pieces that will be included in the new CBA that have to be agreed upon as well that can distract the negotiators. Some are small, like instituting a universal DH and adding some kind of draft lottery (both of which Commissioner Rob Manfred announced this past week that have already been agreed to), and some are bigger issues, like service time manipulation and the salaries of minor league players. These will have to be worked out as well, but they pale in comparison to the two Major League level monetary issues. And those major issues? Well, they don’t seem like they’re exactly close to being settled. Per Bob Nightengale, who covers MLB for USA Today, the most recent numbers on the minimum salary and CBT are $630k and $222mil respectively for the league, and $775k and $245mil for the players’ proposal. That’s a difference in $145k PER PLAYER for minimum salary, and $23mil PER TEAM for the CBT. When you expand that out to the entire league, it’s millions and millions of dollars that need to be surrendered by one side or the other. That is where the main sticking point is, and it will take a serious concession to rectify it.
The league has attempted to bring in a mediator to help progress the talks but the players refused. The players’ proposals have been met with a lot of pushback from the owners. While I personally side with the players, there is significant fault on both sides. By latest reports, the two sides will meet again Friday, February 18th at 1pm. It will be their 6th meeting since December 2nd, meaning that the 2 sides have averaged nearly 2 weeks in between meeting days. The lack of urgency and consistency shows just how far apart the sides still are, and the lack of respect they have for each other and the sport in general. Meetings have become more frequent over the past couple weeks, so hopefully that indicates a ramping up of discussions, but we are still a ways away from Major League Baseball being played this season. Here’s hoping that even with a likely delay of Spring Training, the season will at least begin on time.