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  • CBA Musings (11/12): What’s Happening and What’s Next?


    Ted Schwerzler

    As we barrel toward December 1, 2021, Major League Baseball has an important date on its hands. With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) set to expire, MLB and the MLBPA (Players Association) must agree on a new CBA before the resumption of baseball in 2022. Each week this space will keep you updated on what’s taken place and what to be on the lookout for.

    Image courtesy of Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports

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    For months, and maybe most of the past season, it has been assumed that ugly labor negotiations would commence this offseason. During the Covid shutdown, owners attempted to blame the players while the athletes themselves looked for equitable financial conditions. That set the stage for a large amount of discourse when actual CBA discussions needed to be held.

    We’re now less than a month away from the expiration of the current CBA, and both sides must agree before the 2022 season can commence. A lot has taken place in the past week. Here is what you need to know:

    It’s obvious there’s conflicting information within the industry. Obviously, reporters have sources whose water they carry (we saw that recently with Adam Schefter in the NFL). Both Nightengale and Heyman are well-respected journalists, but the outcome of these two reports couldn’t be further from agreement. Again, Rob Manfred represents the owners, and his goal is to get them the most significant chunk of money for their product. While he oversees the product consumed by the fans, his bottom line is not necessarily aligned with that of MLBPA President Tony Clark. The likely situation here is sources on opposing sides looking to strike fear in one another.

    Service time was the focal point of MLB’s initial proposal to the players. The suggestion is that free agency would commence in the season following 29 1/2 years of age instead of six years of MLB service. Arbitration would also be directly correlated to MLB revenues, and a pool of funds would be allocated to the players. That was sharply denied.

    This week’s proposal, as reported by The Athletic’s Evan Drellich, focused on the same free agency threshold but noted that pay before reaching free agency would directly correlate to WAR (Wins Above Replacement) valuation. Specifically, the number generated from Fangraphs’ calculation.

    An algorithm to determine pre-free agency pay has also been reported upon, but there’s little belief that players will view this idea favorably.

    Nothing about this current proposal seems promising for inclusion in a future agreed-upon deal. First and foremost, tying players to teams until 29.5-years-old would be detrimental to those reaching the big leagues quickly. Both Carlos Correa and Corey Seager have yet to hit that age. Juan Soto would be tied to the Nationals longer; as would players like Vladimir Guerreo Jr. and Ronald Acuna Jr. As stars reach the big leagues quicker, their goal is to be compensated earlier in their prime, not after it has begun. An age closer to 27 may tilt the scales more fairly.

    Speaking as someone who is a fan of advanced analytics and the application of WAR (specifically fWAR), there are challenges here. Valuation isn’t static, and it would be difficult to quantify all players equally. Franchises that embrace analytics on the defensive side will put athletes in a better position to capitalize upon their value. Relievers are not adequately valued solely by looking at WAR, either. On top of that, WAR adjusts on a game-by-game basis. As Jeremy Frank pointed out on Twitter, imagine the guy that gets shelled and released now being negatively valued and therefore owing a former organization money.

    It is interesting to note that there’s a belief some of the top free agents will sign before the December 1st expiration of the current CBA. The best players will get their money regardless, but seeing how those in the middle tiers are impacted could drag this offseason to a rapid halt. I hope we don’t see a lockout that requires missed games, Spring Training, or otherwise. I’d bet heavily on a work stoppage coming effective December 1, however.

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    The owners make their money and that is fine, good for them. Manfred needs to think in terms of MLB as a product to gain consumers, such as in attendance at games, watching on TV, listening to the radio, reading online/newspaers, subscribing to game services (mlb.com), and like kind. The players should consider the younger players and milb to some degree. 27 is a reasonable age, 29 is not. A more simple solution might be to reduce the years of control from six to five and get rid of the bogus rules that hold a player in the minor leagues until May 15 or June something. If you spend 30 days on the roster, that is Year 1 and so forth.

    A strike into March or later will be deleterious for the game, both the owners and the players.

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    Pretty much agree with the above from tony&rodney, but am ambivalent about the entire age structure. I still feel FA should be centered around service time, with the caveat that any manipulation of said ST should be done away with.  A player reaching the majors could/should be a FA around 27-28yo. But I have a hard time with a player reaching full time status at age 25-27 becoming a FA after just 2-3yrs.

    What BOTH sides need to understand and accept is what is best for the growth of the game. For the owners it meets a more equitable split of revenue amongst all teams, similar to the NBA and NFL, for a better, more competitive product on the field. (Which can lead to even greater profits and better TV deals to greater fan interest from EVERY market). The players have to accept some sort of ceiling cap...hard or with some caveats...but with a fair FLOOR that forces teams to spend more and maintain better competition league wide. The high end players may end up losing a few $M, but the middle and lower tier pkayers would see an INCREASE in their paydays. Shouldn't the union be focused on the growth of their sport in the public eye and be focused on ALL players, and not just the top 20%? THAT is my #1 problem with the player's union. 

    I'd love 15 minutes in a locked room with both sides to verbally slap them across the face to examine reality, remind them of their mutual stubbornness and short-sightedness, and reflect on the immense growth and popularity of the NFL and direct them sternly to adopt a similar thought process.

    I dislike the arbitration process very much. I'm not sure an algorithm makes that much sense as the very nature of the arbitration process is each side using their own versions of such to argue their side. (I doubt either side would accept a unified algorithm as each would find arguement how it is skewed in some manner). But what I've never understood is the CONDITIONS of arbitration when it comes to baseball. This is not a court of law. (Even then simple logic tells me their is room for compromise). As long as their is going to be arbitration, I would like to see the arbitrator involved have the power to force a middle ground settlement between the two parties. Perhaps their could be a parameter set where they can only do so if each side is a $1M or less apart. Or perhaps something along the lines of an increase or decrease of the "winning" party than can not exceed 25%, for example. 

    Fortunately, even over the terms of different FO's, the Twins have seldom gone to arbitration, usually settling on their own, and have seldom had bitter disagreements. But I've never found it healthy to have both sides bicker and argue about who deserves what. 

    While these are BIG TIME financial negotiotions that I want no part of and am certainly not qualified to be part of,  it's always amazed me how reporters and we simple, intelligent fans can see the simple groundwork for the good of the game and all involved and the various powers in play seem to have a blind eye.

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    2 hours ago, DocBauer said:

    Pretty much agree with the above from tony&rodney, but am ambivalent about the entire age structure. I still feel FA should be centered around service time, with the caveat that any manipulation of said ST should be done away with.  A player reaching the majors could/should be a FA around 27-28yo. But I have a hard time with a player reaching full time status at age 25-27 becoming a FA after just 2-3yrs.

    What BOTH sides need to understand and accept is what is best for the growth of the game. For the owners it meets a more equitable split of revenue amongst all teams, similar to the NBA and NFL, for a better, more competitive product on the field. (Which can lead to even greater profits and better TV deals to greater fan interest from EVERY market). The players have to accept some sort of ceiling cap...hard or with some caveats...but with a fair FLOOR that forces teams to spend more and maintain better competition league wide. The high end players may end up losing a few $M, but the middle and lower tier pkayers would see an INCREASE in their paydays. Shouldn't the union be focused on the growth of their sport in the public eye and be focused on ALL players, and not just the top 20%? THAT is my #1 problem with the player's union. 

    I'd love 15 minutes in locked room with both sides to verbally slap them across the face to examine reality, remind them of their mutual stubbornness and short-sightedness, and reflect on the immense growth and popularity of the NFL and direct them sternly to adopt a similar thought process.

    I dislike the arbitration process very much. I'm not sure an algorithm makes that much sense as the very nature of the arbitration process is each side using their own versions of such to argue their side. (I doubt either side would accept a unified algorithm as each would find arguement how it is skewed in some manner). But what I've never understood is the CONDITIONS of arbitration when it comes to baseball. This is not a court of law. (Even then simple logic tells me their is room for compromise). As long as their is going to be arbitration, I would like to see the arbitrator involved have the power to force a middle ground settlement between the two parties. Perhaps their could be a parameter set where they can only do so if each side is a $1M or less apart. Or perhaps something along the lines of an increase or decrease of the "winning" party than can not exceed 25%, for example. 

    Fortunately, even over the terms of different FO's, the Twins have seldom gone to arbitration, usually settling on their own, and have seldom had bitter disagreements. But I've never found it healthy to have both sides bicker and argue about who deserves what. 

    While these are BIG TIME financial negotiotions that I want no part of and am certainly not qualified to be part of,  it's always amazed me how reporters and we simple, intelligent fans can see the simple groundwork for the good of the game and all involved and the various powers in play seem to have a blind eye.

    The difference with football is the union sold out.  About the worst type of pay scale where the middle tier makes little, because most of them can be replaced with someone cheaper and about the same talent level.   I agree on the floor as it will force the small market teams to spend. Owners will probably never go for this, but also making 29 1/2 or 6 years which ever is less be the threshold may be closer to fair for all sides. 

    Believe the owners will not buy anything close to this, as I feel a cap with significant penalties is the only way to somewhat  level the field.  Say $200 million with a 50% tax on overage the first year 75% the second, and 100% on the third may be the only solution. 

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    1 hour ago, Seth Stohs said:

    They could do a two-part type of thing... After 29 1/2 ... OR after 6 years, whichever is sooner. That way if a guy is called up at 21 and has six full seasons at age 27, he can become a free agent too.  That might be a middle ground. 

    That's what I thought the offer was, but I didn't realize the 29.5 rule applied to all players. Your idea is perfect, IMO. I hate it when some players have to wait until their 30s to hit the market.

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    I think the free agent # should come from years as a professional.  The second you sign a professional contract your clock should start.  

    Then a big financial penalty paid to the team losing said player maybe some kind of salary exception for teams who sign free agency away from current team.  

    Say the Yankees sign a player away from the marlins for 300 million over 10 years. Yankess would have to pay the player agreed upon amount and pay a percentage each year to the Marlins who had to use that on player salary. 

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    I like Seth’s hybrid idea as it seems fair to both sides.  I also think for the good of the game they must start to address the length of game issue in this CBA.  I am a long time baseball lover, but my kids cannot stand BB games due to the slow pace of play.  We are losing younger fans and slowly dying compared to the NFL for instance.  In 2020 while games were canceled I watched a replay of the 65 World Series and batters and pitchers were prompt allowing a slightly over 2 hour game.  Playoff games this year were more like 4 hours+ and some times unwatchable for even a BB lover like me.  They must address this issue.

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    8 minutes ago, Karbo said:

    Millionaires vs billionaires.

    True, but also laborers vs. owners. Baseball is a game, but also a workplace, and the workers need fair compensation. And, conversely, owners need to be able to ensure operating costs and long-term stability.

    I'm with Doc on the revenue-sharing aspect. When we see the same big-market teams signing the top FAs and making the playoffs pretty much year after year, it diminishes league competition and fan interest. It kinda feels like a two-tiered league at this point.

    Conversely, a salary spending floor is also smart. Put a stop to the multi-year payroll slashing for rebuilding teams.

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    26 minutes ago, LastOnePicked said:

    True, but also laborers vs. owners. Baseball is a game, but also a workplace, and the workers need fair compensation. And, conversely, owners need to be able to ensure operating costs and long-term stability.

    I'm with Doc on the revenue-sharing aspect. When we see the same big-market teams signing the top FAs and making the playoffs pretty much year after year, it diminishes league competition and fan interest. It kinda feels like a two-tiered league at this point.

    Conversely, a salary spending floor is also smart. Put a stop to the multi-year payroll slashing for rebuilding teams.

    If the average household income would have kept pace with baseball salaries over the past 50 years the average household income would be approximately $3.2M.  No group of humans on the planet has enjoyed such a sustain pay increase over so many years in the history of the planet.  The total compensation paid is phenomenal.  Should it be allocated differently?  IDK that's a different question.

    Why do we care who gets what?  Both groups are the extremely fortunate.  What I want is to not have an interruption to baseball.  I also want as much parity as possible and I want my team to have a chance.  Teams like the Twins or even lower revenue teams are at an severe disadvantage now.  Reduce the period of control and that problem gets worse.  I do think Seth's idea of 6 years or 29 1/2 has merit but people cheering for reduced control are cheering for even greater disparity for our team and across the league.

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    13 hours ago, Seth Stohs said:

    They could do a two-part type of thing... After 29 1/2 ... OR after 6 years, whichever is sooner. That way if a guy is called up at 21 and has six full seasons at age 27, he can become a free agent too.  That might be a middle ground. 

    I'm not sure an "or" policy would work because you could still game the service  time like the Twins did with Buxton and delay his FA. I think gaming the system is what players want to avoid.  But you could do an "and" policy. 27 and 3-4 years service. 

    Also, with this in the discussion, I don't see how Buxton signs until after the CBA is agreed. He might get FA if they change the rules.

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    45 minutes ago, KGB said:

    I'm not sure an "or" policy would work because you could still game the service  time like the Twins did with Buxton and delay his FA. I think gaming the system is what players want to avoid.  But you could do an "and" policy. 27 and 3-4 years service. 

    Also, with this in the discussion, I don't see how Buxton signs until after the CBA is agreed. He might get FA if they change the rules.

    This would absolutely crush the lower revenue teams.  The bottom teams would be so bad that they would generate very little revenue.  It would kill the game long-term.  Never / ever going to happen.  I would hope that even the players union would understand this would lead to considerable lost revenue across the league.  

    Why do we care what players want.  The top players make 500X (annually) the amount earned by the baseball fans funding their salaries.  If they are not getting paid well enough they can find a different job like the rest of us.

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    2 hours ago, Major League Ready said:

    This would absolutely crush the lower revenue teams.  The bottom teams would be so bad that they would generate very little revenue.  It would kill the game long-term.  Never / ever going to happen.  I would hope that even the players union would understand this would lead to considerable lost revenue across the league.  

    Why do we care what players want.  The top players make 500X (annually) the amount earned by the baseball fans funding their salaries.  If they are not getting paid well enough they can find a different job like the rest of us.

    You don't have to care what the players want, but they are still going to negotiate what they feel is best for them.  The owners have already offered up an age limit to start FA without service time, so if it's going to be accepted, it's going to be lower than 29.5.

    If you think either side is going to negotiate what best for the fans and not for themselves, you have learned nothing from past agreements.

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    56 minutes ago, KGB said:

    You don't have to care what the players want, but they are still going to negotiate what they feel is best for them.  The owners have already offered up an age limit to start FA without service time, so if it's going to be accepted, it's going to be lower than 29.5.

    If you think either side is going to negotiate what best for the fans and not for themselves, you have learned nothing from past agreements.

    The owners are going to negotiate what's best for the league.  That's generally speaking what's best for the fans.  The owners have a lot riding on the continued success of the league.  The players are going to attempt to maximize their income right now.  I doubt any of them have given much thought to what's best for the future of the sport.  

    Business owners care about the health of their business and their industry for a number of obvious reasons.  No doubt those reasons equate to profitability.  To say they are greedy and don't care is a contradiction.  There is absolutely no question in my mind that the owners will be far more focused than the union where the fans and the good of the game are concerned.

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    Wow.  Lots of great comments!!  I am very concerned about the CBA.  There appears to be plenty of money to go around for everyone.  I am a proponent of some kind of salary cap. However since the average baseball salary is "only" around 4.2 mil per year I doubt the players will go for that.  The state of MLB is approaching unwatchable.  The game appears to be headed to oblivion.  I want to watch a baseball game not simply a new age video game run by analytics and computers.  Baseball cannot afford a lockdown that eats into spring training or regular season games.  They can't take the risk of alienating any more fans.  Any formal stoppage of play is shameful and a slap on the face of the fans that actually work for a living.

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