Notes: Minor League CBA, ratification, the future of MLB labor

Notes on the MiLB CBA ratification, as well as some work from me from around the internet.

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Last Wednesday evening, it was reported that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association — the representatives of the unionized minor-league baseball players — had come to a preliminary agreement for the first-ever collective bargaining agreement for MiLB. All that was needed was for the rest of the players and for MLB’s owners to vote on the agreed-upon deal in order to ratify it. We’re still waiting as of Monday morning for the owners to share their voted-upon feelings on the matter, but the players came through with 99 percent in favor, per a report from The Athletic’s Evan Drellich.

The deal that’s out there — what we know of it anyway — looks pretty great, although as a first-time CBA, clearly unfinished, too. Not to say this was rushed through, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and all, and by Rome I mean the current CBA that MLB players play under. The very first CBA in the league looks quaint in comparison to the sprawling document they play under today; MiLB’s inaugural CBA will be a lengthier and more complex document than MLB’s first, but it’ll take time to get all the way up to where the present-day edition is, simply because the players and owners need more time feeling each other out, as well as the effects of what’s been agreed upon to this point.

And, as I got into at Baseball Prospectus on Friday, it’s not like getting that $50,000 per player annual salary was something that’d happen in one go. This is a strong foundation they can continue to build on, with pay that doubled to quadrupled depending on level, an improved housing policy, rights to player likenesses, a formal grievance procedure, a joint drug agreement, and something in writing saying no more shrinking of the minors is happening within the lifetime of this CBA. Which mostly is good as a precedent, because removing that language will cost the league in the future. Hopefully they never decide to cash in, but if inevitability is at hand, well… at least it won’t be free.

There is one glaring issue that I brought up and my colleague Jarrett Seidler went into far more detail on, and that’s the shrinking of the domestic reserve lists. It’s flat-out stupid and shortsighted that MLB would want to make these cuts, even leaving aside that I don’t feel great about the union agreeing to letting MLB make that call if they choose to in the future. Alas, all of these demands of the players have to cost something, and this is what MLB set the price as. It’s not ideal, but I’m still trying to sort out what the players could have given up instead, which is the rub and all.

I made my freelance debut at Global Sport Matters last week, as they’re focusing heavily on sports labor at the moment. In a piece headlined “How the Zealous Mets and Deviant Padres Are Paving the Way for the Next Era of MLB Labor Relations,” I did my usual thing of looking at the past of the game’s labor fights to see what we could learn about what’s happening in the present. In this case, following a string of major defeats — losing to the players on the subject of pay in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, having the Senate Judiciary Committee paying attention to them while mentioning the word antitrust, minor-league unionization, failure to crush the Players Association even with the use of a lockout that was unnecessary even for a lockout — it was time for the owners to collect themselves and figure out a new angle to achieve old means. If the multiple decades of pushing back against the players the way they did, by pretending the small vs. large market divide is both meaningful and significant in size and the mom-and-pop-run MLB was going to suffer for it thanks to those greedy players, was no longer working, it’s time to try something new, yeah?

Well, maybe not, given early indications of the reactions to how Steve Cohen’s Mets and Peter Seidler’s Padres are spending. You’ll hear much about a salary cap and how Cohen is spending in a way no one can possible catch up to, especially not those widdle baby small-market clubs, and that’ll happen at the same time that the Padres, a revenue-sharing recipient in a media market that’s comparable to some Triple-A ones, is outspending the Dodgers and is closer than you’d think to the literal Yankees. They chose to give up their revenue-sharing checks in order to exceed the luxury tax threshold and give winning a legitimate try: not a “we have to rebuild for four, no, seven years” attempt, not a “well the rest of the division stinks so maybe we’ll get lucky every five years or so” go of things, but actually trying.

This harms the perception of what small-market teams are capable of and how much money is actually in the game — more than Forbes accounts for, remember, no offense intended to their reporting on the matter — so the other owners obviously have a problem with it, enough to form a committee. What this all means, what it relates to in MLB’s past, it’s all in there in that Global Sport Matters piece; give it a read, and please, share it with your friends, too, not just because I wrote it, but because Global Sport Matters is an outlet whose existence makes sportswriting better, and spreading the good word of its existence, as it were, only benefits us in this era of every outlet worth a damn shutting down or downsizing.

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