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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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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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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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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Rob Manfred is lying about Minor League compensation (again)

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Admittedly, I’m not much of a math guy. I can do basic arithmetic, though, and luckily, with the way Rob Manfred spins his stories, that’s about all you need to show that something is amiss. It’s not that Manfred’s numbers used to show how much MLB teams are spending on minor-league players are inaccurate in a vacuum, necessarily: it’s that everything he says with those figures is intentionally skewed so that it looks like more is being done than is, and that compensation is already in a good place.

This is from Manfred’s letter to the United States Judiciary Committee, in an attempt to justify the continued existence of MLB’s antitrust exemption:

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MLB, MLBPA mercifully fail to come to international draft agreement

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​The threat of an international draft remains, in the sense that there will be negotiations in the future, other collective bargaining agreements around which to discuss the possibility of revamping the entire structure of international player acquisition. The good news, though, is that the most recent conversation is over, and no international draft arose from it. The MLB Players Association rejected MLB’s final proposal on Monday, refusing to give in to MLB’s desire to not only create an international draft, but to do so in a way that would create even more of a discrepancy between the earning potential of domestic and international amateurs.

Per ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez, the PA’s international members (primarily Latin-American players) were opposed to the introduction of a draft, and the union at large listened:

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A reason to be optimistic about the failure of international draft talks

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​The MLB Players Association has been pretty quiet about their feelings on an international draft, which shouldn’t be a surprise: those negotiations are ongoing, with a deadline of July 25 to work out a deal with Major League Baseball’s owners, and the PA rarely comments on ongoing negotiations in public. We know that, at this point, the PA has submitted proposals where a draft does, in fact, exist (boo), but the good news is that submitting proposals isn’t the same thing as a future where a draft is created (hooray).

We received a reminder of this during the All-Star week festivities, where executive director of the MLBPA, Tony Clark, got a chance to speak with the media, and did so in a way that… well, it doesn’t really have me feeling optimistic heading into the weekend before the deadline, but I do feel better about the chances that no agreement is reached than I did. As Evan Drellich tweeted:

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