Representatives from Major League Baseball and the players union met more than a dozen times throughout Monday afternoon and into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, making enough progress to push back the “deadline” for an on-time regular season. The idea of establishing a point of no return was little more than a bargaining ploy with no real teeth, but there’s legitimate optimism that its presence got the owners to move more than they had previously. Part of that move is pushing from Monday to 5pm ET Tuesday.
While there are still several gaps on various important topics, it appears as though many have closed to a great extent or even been fully agreed upon. The expanded playoffs, for instance, appear to be set at 12 after the league had been asking for 14. Either way, it’s a win for MLB because they get to take advantage of a reported $100 million deal from ESPN to broadcast the first round.
The most significant area of movement came in the competitive balance tax thresholds and penalties, the former of which has reportedly moved to $220 million — increasing to $230 million over five years — while the latter would remain at the same levels from the old CBA. The union would still like to see a $230 million starting point, so that will be central to Tuesday’s talks.
Likewise, minimum salaries have been bumped to $675,000 and the league has offered a $25 million bonus pool for players in their first three years. The union has been hoping to eclipse $700,000 on one front and more than $75 million on the other, but one has to believe a $100K+ bump to the minimum was the real key here. That is the only change that truly impacts every single player who makes it to the majors, with the bonus pool helping a select few.
After initially asking to have 100% of players with two-plus years of service time be eligible for arbitration, the union moved to 80%, then 75%, and eventually 33% before dropping the changes altogether. That means the Super 2 concept of 22% of the players in that group receiving arb eligibility remains intact, something the owners had been adamant about from the start.
The two sides also reportedly discussed rules regarding the shift, among other things, so there are still a lot of little wrinkles to be ironed out here. Though it’s impossible to make an assessment before we know all the details, it’s looking more and more like the players could accept a deal that still doesn’t get them back to even when it comes to the ground they lost in the last two agreements.
Not that most folks on the outside will really care once baseball gets started back up again, but it’s not a great sign for the next round of negotiations in five years. Again, that’s something we’ll have to circle back to when we can have a more comprehensive look at this thing. One thing we can say with a relative degree of certainty is that doing a deal Tuesday at what would essentially be the 11th hour is more or less what owners have had in mind the whole time.
They got to make the union sweat while riling up a good portion of fans — an overwhelming portion of which are apparently on Facebook — to blame the whole situation on the players. The league will also get the benefit of two frenzied free agency periods, expanded playoffs with the potential for advertising patches on jerseys and helmets, and a news cycle that wasn’t overwhelmed by football.
I guess we’ll know soon enough whether that was all worth it.