It is unreasonable to say the MLBPA’s proposals are unreasonable

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I have seen this odd reaction of late — in my Twitter mentions, in the comments to some of my work, in other peoples’ tweets I do not feel like engaging with — that the Players Association’s economic proposals are unreasonable. This, of course, lends credence to the idea that the players are in some part responsible for the owners locking them out, which they are not. It’s worth breaking down this idea of unreasonableness, though, if for no other reason than it will give me something to link to whenever this idea pops up.

Jomboy Media tweeted out a video the other day both sidesing the current lockout, and said tweet included the text, “It’s possible we lose a full month of the MLB season because of the lockout, and it’s incredibly dumb that the league and players allowed this to happen while the sport’s popularity was growing at such a good pace”. Now, Jomboy Media is relatively new, but they are growing, and have an audience: the main account I linked to there has over 125,000 Twitter followers, which isn’t nothing, and the personal account of Jomboy himself has over 400,000 followers — more than SB Nation’s general Twitter account, if you need some context. He used that space to spread misinformation about how player representation even works in bargaining and within the union, and considering his outreach… that’s a problem!

I don’t want to linger on this specific bit for too long, lest Jomboy claim I’m bullying him with group-think or whatever, but I have to bring it up, because Twitter’s @baseballgaloot made an excellent point while refuting Jomboy’s both sides bullshit: these proposals that the PA made that are supposedly also at fault for the current situation include things such as “the second smallest jump in the league minimum for a new CBA.” The PA isn’t being unreasonable with their minimum salary ask, just because the league is trying to force them into a situation that barely addresses a significant issue with player compensation.

As I wrote in this space just last week, pre-Jomboy, when discussing the minimum salary proposal and counter:

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.

I understand why the PA only asked for a jump to $775,000, since they are dealing with an entity that sees even that modest ask as an overstep, as well as media outlets/personalities who will go out of their way to agree with that sentiment and blame the players for asking for anything at all. It’s not nearly enough of a bump, though, from where I’m sitting. The ask should have been to at least double the minimum, if not triple it, and I stand by what I’ve written on that subject in the past: if the two sides could figure out a CBA that saw a tripling of the salary over its life back in 1990, when the relationship between league and players was even worse than it is now, then they could figure it out in the present, too.

The point, though, so we don’t get lost in the weeds of what the proposals should look like, is that it’s indefensible to say that what the players are asking for with the minimum salary is unreasonable, because $775,000 doesn’t push nearly as hard as it should. It’s likely part one of a multi-part ask, with the next set of CBA negotiations for 2027 and beyond or what have you looking to step things up even further: that’s arguably too reasonable, to split things up like that, instead of pushing harder and faster right now.

It’s not just the minimum salary proposal that has caught flak, though. The PA’s desire to reduce the time it would take to get to free agency has been referred to as a “non-starter” proposal. Honestly, it wasn’t an unreasonable ask when I was under the impression that the idea was to reduce the service time needed to reach free agency for all players from six years to five, but it turns out that it’s far, far more focused than that: the actual free agent proposal that’s been discussed is making it so players who are already 29.5 years or older with five years of service time can become free agents. “Let the very small subset of players about to hit their 30s become free agents before that happens when they’re already that close to free agency,” and using that to deal with some service time manipulation concerns early on in players’ careers — teams could lose a year of a player instead of gaining one if they don’t play their cards right in this scenario — isn’t the kind of thing that should make the owners feel as if they need to deploy their “defensive” lockout.

As for reducing arbitration eligibility service time requirements from three years to two years? The system used to be for two years, and the 1985 collective bargaining agreement jumped it to three. This change was immediately abused by the owners, who used it to fuel roster construction during an era of collusion against free agents in the latter half of the 80s, and in the decades since, has been what powered the push for more and more pre-arbitration players filling out rosters, until we get to where we are today: where the luxury tax threshold serves as an effective replacement for an outright salary cap, and over 50 percent of the accrued service time is earned by players making less than 10 percent of total player compensation.

The owners had their chance to act in good faith within a system where players took three years of service time instead of two to make it to arbitration eligibility. They have been shown they simply cannot be trusted to act that way within that system — the temptation to min max for efficiency’s sake, to treat players like replaceable, disposable, cogs, is simply too great for them, especially since the 2016 CBA kicked in. It’s time for the eligibility rules to change, and there is nothing unreasonable about recognizing that fact, regardless of how much the league might love its exploitative status quo.

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