In a meeting this afternoon, Major League Baseball presented its latest offer to the Players’ Association as part of the ongoing collective bargaining negotiations. The meeting lasted less than an hour, according to Joon Lee of ESPN, with the players coming away “unimpressed” — a word used by Lee, Tim Healey of Newsday and Bob Nightengale of USA Today. On the other hand, Michael Silverman of the Boston Globe reports that the league is “underwhelmed by underwhelmed MLBPA.”
Some of the details of MLB’s 130-page proposal are shared by The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. There was very slight movement on the bonus pool issue, something that had come up in previous bargaining sessions. The league had previously agreed to the MLBPA proposal for a bonus pool, funded by central revenues, to reward pre-arbitration players. Despite agreeing on the proposal, the league and the union have remained far apart on the size. The players initially proposed a total of $105MM, with the league countering by offering $10MM. The players later dropped their ask to $100MM, with the owners today increasing their offer to $15MM.
There was also slight modification to MLB’s proposal regarding the Competitive Balance Tax thresholds. Previously, the plan was to have a limit of $214MM for 2022 through 2024, increasing to $216MM in 2025 and $220MM in 2026. Today’s proposal retained that $214MM number for 2022 and 2023, bumped to $216MM in 2024, and then $218MM and $222MM in the final two years of the deal. The players, on the other hand, have been looking for the threshold to be in the $245MM-260MM range for the five years covered by the deal.
The proposed tax rates for surpassing these thresholds hasn’t changed since MLB’s last proposal, although the draft pick compensation was slightly modified. Under the previous proposal, teams surpassing the first threshold (spending less than $234MM on a proposed $214MM tax threshold) would have to surrender a third round draft pick, though that was dropped to no draft penalty for today’s offer. However, teams would still be paying the same 50 percent tax on every dollar spent within that $214-$234MM area.
As for the league minimum salary, the league made two proposals, one of them involving a flat amount of $630K for all pre-arbitration players. The second proposal involved a tiered system, with players making $615K until they reach one year of service time, $650K for between one and two years’ service time and $725K for those between two and three years’ service time. This is only a slight modification of the previous proposal, in which the tiers were $615K, $650K and $700K, meaning the last tier was the only one to change.
Another proposed change was in relation to MLB’s previous proposal for dealing with service time manipulation. Under the previous proposal, top-100 ranked prospects that were selected to a team’s Opening Day roster could net their team an extra draft pick by finishing in the top five in voting for a major award (the MVP, Cy Young, or Rookie Of The Year) during one of his arbitration-eligible seasons. Under the league’s latest proposal, a team can receive two picks if the player finishes in the top three of voting for multiple major awards. Rogers uses the example of Kris Bryant, as if the Cubs had kept Bryant on their roster for their entirety of the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Chicago would have earned two bonus picks for Bryant’s awards success (the 2015 ROY, the 2016 NL MVP).
In some smaller proposed changes, MLB also proposed a limit on how many times a player could be optioned each year at five. There is currently no limit on how many times a player with options could be shuttled between the majors and the minors, and teams have increasingly taken advantage of this non-rule by constantly moving pitchers back and forth from Triple-A to always ensure fresh relievers are available for in-game maneuvers.
While a five-option cap would still allow teams quite a bit of flexibility for promotions and demotions, it would at least cut down on extreme situations, like how the Rays recalled and demoted right-hander Louis Head 12 times last season. MLB’s proposal for a five-option cap comes with some as yet unknown strings attached, Drellich tweets, which concerns the MLBPA. The union is in favor of a limit to the number of options in general, but their proposal would cap the number of moves at four.
In regards to the amateur draft, the league’s new proposal would reintroduce the “draft and follow” concept, where teams could draft a player and send them to junior college for a year before signing them. In addition, prospects who submit to a pre-draft physical would be guaranteed 75% of their slot value and cannot be “failed” by the physical. This is seemingly in response to Kumar Rocker, who was drafted by the Mets with the 10th overall pick last year, but the two sides didn’t reach a deal since the Mets were concerned by an elbow issue that arose in a post-draft physical. Bob Nightengale adds that the proposal includes an extra $23MM for bonuses given to drafted players and international signings.
If one wants to be optimistic about all of this, it can be said that progress was made and that the league made clear which items it considers negotiable and which it won’t budge on, thus laying the groundwork for the players to come back with their next counter. On the pessimistic side of things, the two sides remain far apart, and the league’s proposed changes in this latest offer are very modest, especially considering the ticking clock that is the scheduled start of Spring Training. Prior to the lockout, pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report this week and games were set to begin on February 26, and the possibility of a deal coming together before then is difficult to fathom.
This inevitably leads to the question of whether or not the regular season will begin as scheduled. It’s often been speculated that a deal would need to be in place by around March 1, in order for teams to have one month to conduct their remaining offseason business and for the players to have a proper Spring Training in advance of Opening Day on March 31. In relation to all this, Drellich reports that the MLB today presented the MLBPA with a calendar outlining when a deal would need to be in place in order to avoid such delays or cancellations. The exact specifications of this calendar aren’t known, though as Drellich notes, it’s unclear if the players would agree with this outlay from the league. As for next steps, Nightengale said that the MLBPA “is expected to submit counter proposals within a week.”