Major League Baseball announced it has postponed the start of the regular season for at least another week. A statement from Commissioner Rob Manfred reads:
“In a last-ditch effort to preserve a 162-game season, this week we have made good-faith proposals that address the specific concerns voiced by the MLBPA and would have allowed the players to return to the field immediately. The Clubs went to extraordinary lengths to meet the substantial demands of the MLBPA. On the key economic issues that have posed stumbling blocks, the Clubs proposed ways to bridge gaps to preserve a full schedule. Regrettably, after our second late-night bargaining session in a week, we remain without a deal.
Because of the logistical realities of the calendar, another two series are being removed from the schedule, meaning that Opening Day is postponed until April 14th. We worked hard to reach an agreement and offered a fair deal with significant improvements for the players and our fans. I am saddened by this situation’s continued impact on our game and all those who are a part of it, especially our loyal fans.
“We have the utmost respect for our players and hope they will ultimately choose to accept the fair agreement they have been offered.”
The MLBPA offered a statement of its own in response (via Twitter):
“The owners’ decision to cancel additional games is completely unnecessary. After making a set of comprehensive proposals to the league earlier this afternoon, and being told substantive responses were forthcoming, Players have yet to hear back. Players want to play, and we cannot wait to get back on the field for the best fans in the world. Our top priority remains the finalization of a fair contract for all Players, and we will continue negotiations toward that end.”
The league and union had seemingly closed the gap on core economics issues in an effort to hammer out a new CBA. However, the league’s efforts to tie the introduction of a draft for international amateurs to the elimination of the qualifying offer proved a sticking point in discussions. MLB had offered the union three proposals on the matter: 1) accept an international draft in exchange for the elimination of the QO, 2) leave both the QO and international signing period in place as they’d previously been or 3) agree to the elimination of the QO with the chance to reconsider the draft next offseason; taking the third route would’ve given the league the right to unilaterally reopen the CBA after the 2024 season if the union continued to object to the draft.
MLB tabled all discussions on other matters beyond that decision, presenting the MLBPA with an ultimatum — choose one of those courses of action or break off negotiations, which would result in another week’s worth of game cancelations. The MLBPA rejected the league’s proposals, instead putting forth a counteroffer. Jeff Passan of ESPN reports (Twitter link) the union proposed the elimination of the qualifying offer for next offseason with a November deadline for a final decision on the international draft. In the event the union rejected a draft at that point, the QO would return the following winter.
MLB declined to counter that proposal, maintaining that their three presented choices were the only scenarios on the table. The league then moved forward with another week of game cancelations. It’s not clear when the parties will reengage in negotiations, but future discussions now figure to be tinged with a whole host of new complications.
The league’s decision today appears to wipe out the possibility of playing a 162-game season. With the shortened schedule are likely to come debates regarding player pay and service time. Manfred has previously stated it’s the league’s position that players shouldn’t be paid for canceled games. MLBPA lead negotiator Bruce Meyer indicated the union would fight any efforts to prorate pay, noting that the game cancelations have been the sole decision of the league.
It’s frankly baffling that the league and union ended up where they did, given how much ground they’d closed on issues like the competitive balance tax, minimum salary and (to a lesser extent) the bonus pool for pre-arbitration players. Those topics hadn’t been formally settled, but the gaps between the parties’ respective asks on each seemed manageable enough to close with further discussions. Despite the movement on core economics, the international draft and indirectly, the qualifying offer, proved a bizarre roadblock.
The MLBPA has continually maintained an unwillingness to implement an international draft, suggesting that players from Latin America are particularly opposed. However, the league’s offers to take the international draft off the table in exchange for the continued existence of the QO make clear that compensation for signing free agents was an equally important issue. The qualifying offer hasn’t garnered a ton of attention as a contentious problem throughout negotiations.
That’s in part because the league agreed early on to its removal before later tying that to the implementation of the draft. However, it’s also because the union has focused much of its attention on a desire to improve compensation for players earlier in their careers. The qualifying offer isn’t related to those efforts, as it only comes into play for around 10-20 free agents (all of whom are at least quality players with six-plus years of service time) each winter. The MLBPA’s decision to draw a line on the qualifying offer is odd, as is the league’s immediate refusal to continue negotiations and cancel more games after the union’s small modification.
The players’ offer to eliminate the QO for one winter and then reevaluate the international draft in November wasn’t all that different than the league’s proposal to maintain the status quo on both topics. Were the union to refuse the international draft and reimpose the QO in 2023-24, the only benefit beyond what the league had been offering would have been one year of free agency without compensation: a matter that would have affected around a dozen players.
Given how close the parties are, it makes both the union’s decision to introduce this counteroffer and the league’s call to end negotiations look like the creation of an avoidable problem. Now, they’ll have to deal with the new issues of player pay and service time on top of whatever gaps remained in the actual questions of substance on the CBA. How long today’s setback will linger can’t be known, but it’s another blow to fans who’d gotten their hopes up at reports of progress over the past two days.
Andy Martino of SNY first reported the upcoming cancelation of games before the league announcement.