MLB, MLBPA met for first time since before the lockout

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On Monday, I wrote about how MLB was still working on an economic proposal for the union, well after a month of lockout is already behind us. They finished up and presented this proposal on Thursday, and from the sounds of it, it is, like basically everything else MLB has proposed during the economic portion of bargaining, generally a waste of everyone’s time.

That’s not to say nothing was accomplished or agreed to — for instance, Susan Slusser reported that MLB proposed a universal DH on Thursday, and that, so long as it’s not “tied to something else as a bargaining chip,” it should be accepted — but otherwise, MLB didn’t address many of the union’s concerns, and presented non-starter solutions for others.

It’s not that anyone expected MLB to present a killer proposal that the PA would be into, or for the two sides to make significant movement in a single bargaining session or anything. MLB is, of course, free to propose things that will work better for them than the union, and the union can counter to try to bring some balance back to the proceedings, and so on and so forth until they agree where in the middle they’re meeting on a subject. MLB’s reported proposal doesn’t feel like a step one for that sort of thing, however: it feels like the league continuing to just hold out on addressing anything the union is actually concerned about, in the hopes the lockout will create all the pressure the league needs to break the union’s current stance.

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted out that MLB is “dead set” against lowering the free agency eligibility from six years to five, citing competitive imbalance and small-market concerns. Of course, “small-market” teams, other than being something I sarcastically and derisively refer to as such, receive revenue-sharing checks that are supposed to help them afford to retain players or sign new ones. It’s not the length of time it takes for a player to reach free agency that causes the Pirates to basically always be an embarrassment. It’s that the Pirates are often run in an embarrassing fashion. There is an unresolved revenue-sharing spending grievance against them — as well as the A’s, Marlins, and Rays — for a reason, you know. You of course will not hear any of that from Heyman himself, as he is a regular on MLB Network, and is either unwilling to rock that particular boat or believes in his own pro-MLB spin. Either way, that makes him a more useful tool for MLB than for anything resembling accurate reporting, so keep that in mind while the hot stove is off.

As for topics the league actually did engage in, we now know what kind of minimum salary proposals the league and the union have been discussing. The union reportedly wants a bump from $570,500 to $775,000, while the league would prefer a much smaller increase, with future raises determined by a tiered system tied to service time: $600,000 for players with less than one year of service, $650,000 for more than one but less than two, and $700,000 for players with at least two years of service. Obviously, this system is better than the current one, in which teams are not required to give out more than a paltry little raise from one year to the next for pre-arb players, but it’s also nowhere near what the union is proposing just yet. Consider that the baseline minimum the PA is suggesting is $775,000, and MLB’s high-end proposal for players entering their third season’s worth of games tops out at $75,000 less than that. It might look close on the surface, like MLB is willing to entertain what the union is proposing here, but that is not the case.

Far more embarrassing when it comes to service time, however, is MLB’s proposal to stop manipulation of it. MLB proposed, per Ben Nicholson-Smith, that if a “highly-ranked prospect (within top 150 on prospect lists) plays a full year and finishes top five for a major award like MVP, Cy, RoY his team would get a bonus draft pick.” Let’s tackle the structural issue there first, to see if it even would solve the problem it promises to. Is that supposed to encourage teams to promote their best prospects faster? As Craig Goldstein pointed out, teams don’t want more draft picks. Paying draft picks costs money, and all of the league’s behavior in the last decade-plus when it comes to the draft and amateurs has shown you how much they loathe spending it. The whole point of this deal is that they can say they put something in place to stop manipulation, and then they’ll manipulate, anyway, because the benefits far outweigh the negatives for them.

This is without even getting into, once again, how MLB is looking to a third-party to regulate their behavior, just as they did with the proposal to eliminate arbitration to replace it with a tiered algorithm based on wins above replacement. Now, the PA and MLB would negotiate over the actual statistics to be used in that scenario — they wouldn’t necessarily just be pulling from FanGraphs or whatever here — but it’s still an attempt to use a seemingly neutral source to determine player value, one that would allow MLB to wash their hands of the blame for whatever loopholes they repeatedly ram themselves through over the life of the next CBA. And it’s without getting into how the league would be pushing seemingly independent analysts into a position they should not be in… or using their own in-house prospect analysts for the same. No wonder the players weren’t pleased with what was presented to them on Thursday.

None of this is a surprise, given how MLB has been bargaining to this point, but all of this does give us some insight into what their plan seems to be here, this far into the lockout. MLB is not in a rush to move things along. They are not of the mind that they need to make any real movement toward what the PA is proposing or desires. The lockout was enacted to pressure the union into giving up on their demands out of fear that they would lose out on paychecks, or simply have too many unknowns to contend with in 2022 to feel comfortable holding out any longer. It took nearly six weeks for MLB and the union to meet again after the “defensive lockout” that supposedly was meant to speed the two sides along to a resolution. MLB’s proposals show that they don’t mind if another six weeks passes before anything gets done. The Players Association needs to act the same way with their counter proposal if they don’t want to end up being the ones to blink first.

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