In a lengthy piece for The Athletic, Evan Drellich profiles Bruce Meyer, who is the MLBPA’s senior director of collective bargaining and legal. Meyer was hired in 2018, after many players were reportedly dissatisfied with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was ratified in 2016. The piece notes that Meyer will meet with league representative Dan Halem near Dallas this week for some final negotiations before the CBA expires at 11:59 ET on December 1, which is this Wednesday. It’s been widely reported that, without a deal at that time, the league is expected to implement a lockout and transaction freeze, to be maintained until a new deal is reached.
As to exactly what points will be negotiated, both sides are understandably being cagey about revealing their positions, though the piece does have a few hints. “We want to find ways to get players compensated at an earlier stage of their careers when the teams are valuing them the most,” Meyer says. “And we want to preserve the fundamental principles of a market system.” This sentiment was echoed by star free agent and Players Association executive subcommittee member Max Scherzer, who was quoted in the article. “Unless this CBA completely addresses the competition (issues) and younger players getting paid, that’s the only way I’m going to put my name on it,” Scherzer said.
There is indeed a tremendous gap between the salaries of younger players and veterans. Until players reaches three years’ service time, they have no ability to negotiate their salary, with their clubs allowed to pay them around the league minimum, which is currently under $600K. After three years, a player can start earning raises through the arbitration system, but is still usually paid well below what they could garner on the open market. (Some players will reach Super Two status each year, reaching arbitration early.) Only after accruing six years’ service time does a player earn the right for free agency and the ability to maximize their earning potential. If the players want that system to change, it could come in many forms, such as a higher minimum salary or a reduction in the amount of service time needed for either arbitration or free agency.
However, there does seem to be some awareness that the players won’t be able to get everything that they want this winter. Free agent righty Collin McHugh, who previously served on the subcommittee, framed it thusly. “We’re not gonna change the game completely for players in one CBA,” McHugh said. But that shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the players will just roll over in negotiations. When asked about the possibility of a lockout, Meyer had this to say. “I think players understand why it’s a possibility and the reasons for it, and what it will entail. At the end of the day, it’s about what players are willing to fight and sacrifice for. I think players understand that.” Lefty Andrew Miller, another member of the subcommittee, also chimed in about the potential lockout. “If we’re truly serious about making changes, improving the game and improving the position of players, it’s an unfortunate reality of the system. But we are absolutely prepared for it.”
One thing hanging over these negotiations, beyond the usual tensions between athletes and owners, is the lingering resentment over the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal, based on his comments in the article. “I’ve been in charge of labor in this industry since 1998,” Manfred said. “Every single time, I have found a way, we have found a way, to make an agreement and keep the game on the field. One sort of mid-term negotiation in the middle of a crisis of a pandemic — I just don’t put that much weight on it.” The players, however, may not see it quite the same way. “Rob and the commissioner’s office kind of held the season hostage for a minute when everybody was ready to play,” says McHugh. The union filed a grievance over this 2020 season back in May, and it seems the bitterness over that might still carry on into this winter.