MLB lockout: How much can the MLBPA still gain in CBA negotiations?

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark speaks during a press conference on youth initiatives hosted by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association at Citi Field before a game between the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 16, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Pirates 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark speaks during a press conference on youth initiatives hosted by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association at Citi Field before a game between the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 16, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Pirates 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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Clearly, the strategy of ownership to drag out the CBA negotiations and the MLB lockout until spring training games started getting postponed is working.

Current negotiations are focused on a few issues, some of which will have little impact on the vast majority of players. Some of those issues, like the universal DH and expanded playoffs, will sadly be used as bargaining chips rather than deciding on what is best for the game. With that being said, which issues should players stand firm on, even if it means missing some paychecks if and when the start of the regular season is delayed?

Let’s look at some of the big issues causing the current MLB lockout

Competitive Balance Tax

The rationale for the players wanting this increased goes back to the beginning of free agency: If the salaries for the top players go up, all other will follow. However, this no longer seems to apply. While a few players are signing deals that will pay them upwards of $30 million well into the next decade, well over half of all players made less than $1 million last year. Even if the CBT tax threshold remains at $210 million, all but six teams could sign a player for $30 million per season without hitting the threshold. Clearly, in the current environment, the players could give the owners a win on this in exchange for something that helps more players, such as…

Minimum salaries

With few exceptions, players who are not eligible for arbitration make the minimum or something close to it, so raising that bar would instantly improve the income of hundreds of young players. It would also help veterans, in two ways. First, simply by raising the income of players who sign minimum contracts. Second, and more importantly, the most prevalent trend for salaries over the past decade or so has been that players eligible for arbitration or free agency find themselves priced out of jobs and replaced by younger, cheaper players. By raising the salaries of young players, veterans will be more affordable by comparison.

Revenue sharing

The players don’t want teams to take money from revenue sharing without using that money to improve their team. There are various proposals to compel or incentivize teams to a minimum level of spending, but none of them, candidly, seems workable. It’s probably better to let this go than to cobble together some convoluted solution that owners likely will find a way around.

Arbitration

Players know that arbitration is an effective tool for players to get paid what their performance should yield, regardless of what market they play in. Owners have always held firm on not making all players with two years of service time eligible for arbitration. The current negotiations seem to center around what proportion of players between two and three years are eligible for arbitration, and preventing teams from manipulating service time to avoid hitting arbitration sooner.

The stakes are clear. Take Shane Bieber, for instance. Coming off his Cy Young year in 2020, he would have been in line for a huge payday if he had been eligible for arbitration, probably in excess of $10 million. But, since he had just over two years of service time, he had no choice but to accept the offer from Cleveland of just under $700,000. Plus, because arbitration awards in subsequent years tend to build off prior years, that extra year of arbitration would allow Bieber’s total income to compound so that, by his fifth year, his income would have increased even more.

This is what I would offer if I were the players: Arbitration after three years, but if a player spends a year on the 40-man roster and appears in an MLB game before September 1, that counts as a full season. This would put most players currently in the gray area between two and three years of service time into the eligible category, while also reducing the ways in which teams can manipulate service time.

It’s not perfect (there may need to be an alternate solution for players with two full years who still fall short), but it’s simple, and simple rules have fewer loopholes for owners to abuse.

Next. Why baseball is better suited for instant replay than other sports. dark

At this late stage of the MLB lockout, the players seem unlikely to gain the type of structural changes they were seeking that would alter the business model of the sport. However, by focusing their attention on the issues that do the most good for the most players, they can still come out of this with a good deal.