MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement: A Lockout is Imminent

by Nate Alexander

If you’re like me and you’re wondering “What the heck is a collective bargaining agreement?”, you are not alone. I have browsed numerous sources and have put together a hodgepodge or “collective” of article bits to piece this together in a way that makes some sort of sense. All credit is provided to those authors.

I’ll preface by saying the biggest issue for most of the followers of Cascadia Sports is Seattle Mariners free agency. If a stoppage occurs, contact cannot be made between teams and free agents or players on their 40-man rosters.  Additionally, players cannot use team facilities. Therefore, free agency will then be put on hold–the last thing fans want to hear entering a pivotal season for Seattle Mariners fans.

Without a CBA in place, players will likely strike right before the season, giving players leverage over owners. A lockout is a measure to hopefully prevent a strike, giving club owners the upper hand in hopes players will bend to their requests.

While very likely to happen at midnight on Wednesday, both parties can continue negotiating, but the lockout will induce urgency.

The first question is, “What is a collective bargaining agreement?”

The short answer, according to the MLBPA CBA website, is that it is essentially the agreement of the terms and conditions of employment between team owners and MLB uniformed players. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as scrolling down really fast and checking a box that you “agree to the terms and conditions” as we do on our devices. The entire 373-page CBA from 2017-2021 can be found here .

So what exactly are the players arguing for or against? From multiple sources, I’ve gathered the following:

Dayn Perry from CBS Sports:

[Players would like] to address their shrinking share of those league revenues (indicated in part by the declining average player salary), the occasional practice of service-time manipulation (i.e., when teams hold back a clearly ready prospect in order to delay his free agency and arbitration eligibility for a full year), and the “tanking” problem, among other matters. Teams have increasingly trended younger in their roster construction, and the union will be fighting to get those younger players paid more in line with their on-field value while also seeking incentives to make teams more competitive with one another.

The key takeaway is the last sentence.  Younger players are not getting (or rarely getting) paid the big money when they’re younger and productive. Front offices, in some cases, don’t value these players as highly due to their age or possible plateau towards declination and therefore could limit their next deal. Teams with talented players like Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Wander Franco tend to restructure contracts early on to ensure they don’t enter free-agency for at least a decade.

Players would like to enter free agency at 29.5 years of age after achieving five years of service time or after six years of service, whichever is first. Players also would like the arbitration process to start after two seasons vice three as it currently is.

Jeff Passan of ESPN stated:

The players want bigger paydays earlier in their careers, more competitive integrity, no service-time manipulation and fewer artificial restraints on players via the competitive-balance tax (CBT) and draft-pick compensation. Among the league’s objectives: a static amount of spending on players, expanded playoffs, an international draft and on-field changes.

Mark Feinsand at MLB.com:

MLB made three proposals last week that included a number of concessions to the players:

• The elimination of the current qualifying offer system, which would remove Draft-pick compensation attached to any free agent
• A Draft lottery similar to the one used by the NBA
• The universal DH, which would add 15 everyday jobs for hitters in the NL; the average salary for a DH in 2021 was $9.2 million
• An increase to the minimum player salary
• An increase in the CBT threshold

The league did state there was some headway on a postseason expansion proposal, introducing a new playoff system.

Feinsand also stated the MLBPA is trying to overhaul the economics of the League that have been implemented for decades.  These include six-year free agency, super-two eligibility, and revenue sharing–all which could have a negative impact on small-market teams.

Jesse Rogers of ESPN:

On Tuesday, players added potential revenue-generating ideas, such as allowing advertising patches on jerseys and a 12-team postseason, to their offer. But they also asked for the luxury tax threshold to be raised to $240 million. It was $210 million last season.

 

To accommodate the playoff grid in a 12-team postseason, the union offered up each league realigning to two divisions, one with eight teams and one with seven.

The points above are just surface points I’ve been able to uncover through these supporting articles which I encourage you to read. Overall, I believe a lockout will happen and the hot stove will be shut off for a few weeks, which is detrimental for the Mariners. However, we still have three months until Spring Training and four months until the first pitch of the 2022 season.

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