A call for MiLB questions

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With no collective bargaining agreement news on the horizon at the MLB level, it’ll be a little quieter in that regard than it has been the past few years once the postseason and offseason hit. Not silent, no, but it’s not the story of the winter, as it was of late. Instead, there will be focus on what goes into the first-ever CBA for MLB’s minor-league players, now that they’re unionized and the league has voluntarily recognized them as such: how long that process will be is unknown, how much of a fight will be put up by MLB or even by the players themselves is a mystery, too. But that’ll be the topic du jour until it isn’t, considering its historic and ongoing nature.

I’ve got coverage plans, of course, both reactive and proactive, but I wanted to send out a note requesting mailbag questions from y’all, on the very subject of this minor-league bargaining unit of the Players Association, the CBA they’ll be negotiating, and whatever else comes to mind on the topic. Given how long I’ve been covering minor-league unions in other sports and the potential for one in MLB, the chances are good I’ll either have an answer to your question, or know who to ask to get one. So let’s sift through all of this together.

You can reply to this newsletter with a question if you’re reading it in your inbox, or you can reach me on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin. And if you have non-MiLB unionization questions, feel free to ask those, too, but, as with lockout-related questions last offseason, there’s a reason to ask for these targeted questions. Depending on the question and the answer, they could be featured as part of a mailbag featuring multiple questions, or as an article unto itself.

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Reduced intradivision play is a welcome change

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The Cleveland Guardians clinched the American League Central on Sunday with a 10-4 win over the Texas Rangers, and there are certainly some reasons to think that’s neat. They weren’t close to being the favorites — the defending Central champs the White Sox and the post-Carlos Correa Twins were ahead of them there — and they’re the youngest team in the league, too. However, the Guardians are also having a season that, on the surface level, is merely on par with that of the AL wild card contenders: Cleveland is currently 86-67, while the Blue Jays (86-67), Rays (84-69), and Mariners (83-69) are right there with them.

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Who bargains over the international draft now?

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Last week at Baseball Prospectus, I wrote about how the new minor-league bargaining unit within the Major League Baseball Players Association is going to be bargaining for more than just money. Some of that, as described in the article in question, is in relation to how MLB will no longer be able to just unilaterally change rules in the minors, but instead would have to bargain over rule changes just like they have with the MLBPA in the past. There are other areas where change is coming too, though, also related to the way the PA has bargained in the past.

I’ve said this before, but it’s just weird that… well, let’s just quote me from this past July, shall we? This is from a piece celebrating the fact that the PA and MLB couldn’t come to an agreement on instituting an international draft to replace the current international free agent signing period:

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MLB will voluntarily recognize minor-league union

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It’s kind of wild to be typing this out even after having the weekend to process it, but Major League Baseball won’t be fighting the formation of a minor-league bargaining unit within the MLB Players Association. Instead, they’ll voluntarily recognize it, assuming the card check on Wednesday shows that there is, in fact, the support the PA says there is for this.

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The BBWAA can’t agree on what makes an MVP, but the votes are now used for salaries

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There are multiple problems with the recent trend of the Baseball Writers Association of America being forced into a role where their award votes now factor into player contracts, but there’s one specific thing I want to focus on right now, given the particular news cycle we’re in. How is it right or fair to, for instance, let MVP voting determine the shape and size of Julio Rodríguez’s extension, when the BBWAA itself can’t agree on what makes a player MVP-worthy?

Rodríguez’s extension, recently signed with the Mariners during his rookie campaign, will pay out somewhere between $210 million and $470 million. And the value after the initial guarantee is entirely up to what happens with Most Valuable Player voting and Rodríguez before the option years kick in. As Ken Rosenthal explained at The Athletic:

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Why the MLBPA hadn’t already organized minor leaguers

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You aren’t about to hear me say that the Major League Baseball Players Association has always had the needs of minor-league players in mind during their negotiations, but there is at least one persistent criticism of the union’s handling of minor leaguers that doesn’t carry much weight, and that’s the fact that they weren’t already part of the MLBPA. There have been reasons for things being split the way they are for decades — for the entire history of the Players Association as we know it today — and it’s only just recently that the environment has changed in a way where the PA could more formally lend assistance to the organization of minor-league players.

Back in 2012, Slate spoke to the PA’s first executive director, Marvin Miller, as well as Gene Orza, who spent 26 years working with the PA after being brought on as an associate general counsel, about the decision to not include minor-league players in the organizing of the MLBPA:

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Let’s break down the MLBPA moving to unionize minor-league players

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Late on Sunday night, there was major breaking news: the Major League Baseball Players Association was going to try to help prove that there’s enough support across Minor League Baseball for a union. They’re going to do this by distributing voting cards, per ESPN’s report and Evan Drellich’s confirmation, the idea is that, “The MLBPA will present the cards confidentially to the [National Labor Relations Board] to show both that a significant number of minor league players support having the MLBPA represent them and that a union election should be held.”

If you’ve never been in a union before, or part of a union that’s forming, the whole authorization card thing might be a little confusing. Essentially, it is a vote: whether it’s a vote that will be recognized by MLB and the NLRB depends on just how in favor of the PA’s representation and forming a union the over 5,000 minor-league players are. If, for instance, 75 percent of these cards are returned in favor of a union, MLB would be in a position where they should voluntarily recognize the union’s existence — essentially, the wide-ranging support would prove an actual formal vote isn’t necessary. MLB is unlikely to voluntarily recognize anything, however, whether it has 75 percent or unanimous approval, because they will want to wait this thing out as long as they can in order to hope that some turnover in the ranks of the players decimates support.

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The Angels are finally looking to sell (but why?)

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Generally, I’m a grump about a team looking to sell, for “the devil you know” reasons. There are exceptions, of course. The Wilpons relinquishing the Mets… well, it was going to be difficult to find owners as troublesome as that family to replace them (though, Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez did attempt to buy the team, and as enjoyable as the dysfunction of their breakup would have been as it played out in the sports world, A-Rod’s weird pro-owner leanings wouldn’t be as good for the players as Steve Cohen doing his thing, getting a new tax level named after him in the process). The Angels feel like they fit similar territory to the Mets: it’s been clear for a long time now that the thing holding the organization back is the man in charge of it, so the possibility that a new owner could mean the end of their futility is a realistic one. And according to the Angels themselves, they’re now exploring the idea of selling.

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Michael Harris II’s deal is a team-friendly extension I don’t hate

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The Braves are somewhat notorious for inking severely team-friendly extensions with their pre-arbitration players, to the point I’ve used their past work in this arena as an example of how young players end up pushed into signing deals they feel like they have to sign. Ronald Acuña Jr. was clearly an elite player in the making even as a rookie, and the Braves signed him after that initial season to an eight-year, $100 million contract — the largest-ever extension for a player with less than one year of service time. That sounds like a big deal, but again, Acuña was expected to be the kind of player who would someday command over $300 million on the open market, so, as significant as this deal was, most of the risk really was still on Acuña’s side, not Atlanta’s.

Unlike the Acuña one, where you can at least go, “hey, $100 million is still an absurd amount of money,” the Ozzie Albies extension is maybe the worst one a player has ever signed. As I wrote at the time, the issue was that it made sense: for Albies to accept, for the Braves to offer. It’s a horrid deal, and while Albies isn’t a star like his teammate, he still served to deprive himself of the kind of arbitration payments a player of his caliber could pull in, and was forced to do so because of how changes to international free agency shifted leverage and payouts away from the players, how little minor-league players are paid, and how teams have tried to erode confidence in free agency, and, in turn, the arbitration process its values feed into.

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No one is buying Rob Manfred’s letter to Congress

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Toward the end of July, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a 17-page letter explaining all the reasons why the anti-competitive antitrust exemption that gives Major League Baseball total control over minor-league players and their earnings is actually good for those players. The numbers he reported as evidence might have been accurate, in the sense that those numbers do exist, but the context within which he deployed them was purposely misleading, an obfuscation designed to hide the true nature of minor-league compensation.

It’s not just your friendly neighborhood Manfred Disbeliever who feels that way, either. Advocates for Minor Leaguers first issued a short statement that said:

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