Until this week, it seemed like it was impossible for spring training to start on time on February 16. And it was certainly highly doubtful that the regular season would open as scheduled on March 31.
As things stand, spring training and/or the season could still very well be delayed. However, there is at least a glimmer of hope that perhaps Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association can agree on a new collective bargaining agreement that would end the lockout.
MLB locked players on Dec. 2 just hours after the previous CBA expired.
There were then no negotiations until the two parties met Monday and Tuesday in person in New York and by videoconference. Although there is no indication that the parties are close to an agreement, it should be considered positive that the negotiations have finally taken place.
The most encouraging aspect of the talks is that the two sides appear to have at least the framework for a potential deal. That didn’t seem to be the case as recently as Monday morning when the parties appeared to be comparing apples to oranges on some of the major issues.
First, the players agreed to maintain the threshold for players to become free agents at six full years of major league service, which has been in place since the advent of free agency in 1976. The players wanted the threshold is lowered.
The owners then agreed not to increase the service time threshold for players to become eligible for arbitration to three full years of service time. Currently, the top 22% of players with more than two years but less than three years of service can go to an arbitration hearing.
The MLBPA is asking that all players with a minimum of two full years be eligible for arbitration, returning to the system that was in place from 1974 to 1986.
With those two hurdles removed, there is now at least one path to more successful negotiations.
The owners agreed to the union’s request to send additional money to pre-arbitration eligible players from central MLB revenue.
The owners have offered $10 million a year and the players are asking for $105 million a year. Admittedly, it’s a big gap, but at least it’s a starting point.
MLB also increased its offer to raise the minimum salary for players with less than one year of service from $600,000 to $615,000, which would be an increase from the current minimum of $570,500. Players want a minimum of $775,000.
It’s not unreasonable to think teams can close the $160,000 gap.
There are, however, other issues that still need to be resolved.
Players want owners to reduce revenue sharing between clubs by $30 million a year. The MLBPA would also like new rules regarding the manipulation of service time and “tanking,” a phrase used when teams dismantle and begin to rebuild.
The owners don’t seem too keen on making changes in these areas.
Teams proposed that any player called up in August or September who remained eligible for Rookie of the Year the following season — under 130 plate appearances for batters, under 50 innings for pitchers — would count for draft picks. additional amateur as part of their plan to adjust service time.
It remains to be seen whether the two sides can compromise on all of these issues in time for spring training to begin. However, a framework for a deal is at least developing, which is more than could be said at the start of the week.