On negotiating a potential expanded MLB postseason

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The MLB Players Association is correct to not give in to the owners’ idea of an economic proposal, but at some point, they’re going to need to concede some ground on the areas the league really cares about in order to bring about the kind of changes they want on their side of things. This isn’t meant to say, “hey, union, hurry it up!” or anything — take your time, guys, get that best version of a CBA no matter how long it takes — but more as a warning that some version of an expanded postseason is likely on the way.

The owners, obviously, want an expanded postseason. They want it for two reasons. The first is that more postseason rounds and games means larger (and maybe even more) national television contracts to broadcast postseason games. The second is that teams can make it to the postseason more often without actually trying to, which will help combat the idea that a significant chunk of the league regularly isn’t putting in anything close to their best effort, or any effort at all. After all, they just made the postseason!

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If forced to choose between arbitration and free agency proposals, MLBPA should pick arb

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I’ve been thinking and writing about the kinds of demands the MLB Players Association should be making of Major League Baseball in this round of collective bargaining for a few years now, so it should not be a surprise that I have some thoughts on the specific proposals we do have word of from the union’s side. There is a lockout because MLB seemingly wants no change unless it’s the kind that will further benefit the owners’ pockets, while the union is pushing to close off some of the loopholes exploited by those same owners over the duration of the previous CBA. Given this, there is the chance that, even if the PA holds strong and MLB lifts the lockout more because they blinked than because they crushed the union as they hope to, the union won’t get everything it wants — some proposals will need to be dropped, others prioritized.

Two that have received a bit of attention in these early days have been the desire to cut the time it takes to get to free agency from six years to five (with an age threshold component thrown in for players who debut much later and have already toiled within their initial contract for a long time) and cutting the amount of time it takes to reach arbitration eligibility. I don’t think it’s impossible that the PA gets both of these asks, in some form, but if you asked me to bet on it, I’d say MLB moves on one but not the other in order to try to limit the “damage.”. So let’s figure out which of them the union absolutely should not give up on, and why it’s the arbitration proposal.

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MLB’s lacking luxury tax increase a reminder of the limitations of bargained thresholds

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Just a few weeks back, in reaction to one of the few economic proposals Major League Baseball actually bothered to submit while the now-expired collective bargaining agreement was still active, I wrote about how MLB’s pay-for-WAR, algorithmic plan to replace arbitration could not work without revenue scaling. Two days into the lockout, it’s time to give another example as to why any of these plans that rely on bargaining financial thresholds have the same inherent problem, and that’s because of how MLB has treated the raising of the luxury tax threshold during talks so far.

As was reported by Evan Drellich, MLB proposed raising the luxury tax threshold from the 2021 figure of $210 million to $214 million, with it eventually reaching $220 million by the final year of the new CBA. That’s clearly just a starter offer in terms of raising the luxury tax threshold — the numbers would almost surely be at least a little bit bigger if the two sides were finished negotiating by now — but what sticks out to me is that it’s presented as a concession at all. Not by Drellich, who is one of the few writers at a major outlet who is actually nailing the framing and depth of their coverage, but by MLB. Inflation exists. Revenues climb. The value of money changes over time. The luxury tax threshold increasing should just be a thing that is expected to happen, not something that is considered a concession, especially not with the minuscule bumps the league is proposing.

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MLB and the MLBPA are planning as if a lockout is a real possibility

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It certainly feels as if MLB’s owners are going to lock the players out when the current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 2. Feeling something doesn’t necessarily make it true, though, but all the same, the reason it feels like a lockout is imminent is because of what we’re seeing in the news relating to collective bargaining over the past couple of weeks.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently went out of his way to try to make a distinction between an offseason lockout and a work stoppage that interferes with games. There is no reason to lay down that kind of foundation unless you’re expecting to have to build on it. That MLB’s economic proposals are so far off the mark from what the players have reportedly been proposing, too — and submitted so close to the deadline, too — certainly makes it feel as if MLB’s goal here is to enact a lockout in the hopes they can weaken the unity and stance of the Players Association.

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MLB’s pay-for-WAR proposal can’t work without revenue-scaling

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There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of MLB’s most recent economic proposal to the Players Association, one that includes replacing arbitration with an algorithm based on some kind of wins above replacement-esque figure. The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal had the initial report on this story on Thursday, and ESPN’s Jeff Passan followed up with some additional details on Friday.

You should read both of those pieces, to get an understanding of just what it is that Major League Baseball is proposing — if you’ve been following along with me for, well, years now, I guess, you know that I’m generally opposed to replacing the arbitration system, as it’s basically the only remaining economic lever where MLB does not have full control. It needs some updating and modernizing, for sure, but the chances of it being outright replaced by a better system are slim, because MLB wants to get rid of arbitration primarily because it works. Do you think they’re going to replace a working system with one that will work against them even more? Certainly not intentionally, no: something would have to be snuck in the back door, a loophole they don’t see, like… [checks notes] arbitration was.

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In CBA talks, all that matters is what’s said behind closed doors

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My latest for Baseball Prospectus took a look at the growing whispers around the ongoing collective bargaining occurring between Major League Baseball and the Players Association. It’s behind BP’s paywall for subscribers, but I can give you the gist of it and a quote before we dive in a little further:

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Be mindful of why you’re seeing leaks from MLB collective bargaining

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As more news of the ongoing collective bargaining between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association comes out, it’s important to remember that the news itself is part of the negotiation process. Leaks come out about salary negotiations and free agent discussions every winter with specific intent, not just so fans have something to pass the time with, and the talks between MLB and its players are no different.

A central part of two of my more recent Baseball Prospectus features touched on this: both were reactions to reported leaks from this year’s collective bargaining, and were I a betting man, I’d wager that both leaks came from MLB’s side. For one, the PA actively attempts to avoid leaks — remember just last year, when the PA only entered into the negotiation leaking game to put a stop to MLB’s tidal wave of negative info dumping? That’s how they operate, keeping the negotiations private as intended until they’re pushed to a point where doing so is no longer tactically sound. MLB, on the other hand, is constantly waging a public relations battle and thinking a number of moves ahead; ergo, they leak just enough to further whatever their goal happens to be. And second, both pieces of reporting assumed the reaction from the players’ side, without even an anonymous quote to go on. If one side isn’t talking, or isn’t giving you anything on the record, that’s what you’re going to have to do.

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On the proposed MLB salary floor and messaging

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Surprised that MLB’s owners proposed a salary floor all on their own during the current collective bargaining sessions with the Players Association? I was a little taken aback, too, but as I wrote on Friday for Baseball Prospectus, just because the owners proposed a salary floor doesn’t mean they actually want one. What they do want is for you — fans, media, etc. — to believe that they do want one, and that it’s necessary. Which it is, of course, but not in the way MLB is proposing.

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MLB, MLBPA finally begin discussing expiring CBA

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Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have had their first collective bargaining meeting of 2021, according to reporting by ESPN’s Jeff Passan. He has no details on just what went down at the talks, as both sides declined to comment on them, and a lack of leaks from the MLB side — come on, you know it would be them first — means we can’t really figure out just how the first conversation went.

Passan gives a brief overview of the current situation — distrust on both sides, the players being understandably dissatisfied with both the league and the way the current, expiring collective bargaining agreement has played out — but I want to focus on one specific item he mentioned:

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The MLBPA has managed to triple the minimum salary before

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For Baseball Prospectus last November, I wrote about the need for the Major League Baseball Players Association to fight to increase the minimum salary in their next collective bargaining talks with MLB. I’ve brought this up a few times since, because those talks will begin at some point in the coming weeks or months, given the current CBA expires in December and the regular season is slated to start in less than a month: it should be one of the primary focus points for the union, as it has the kind of from-the-ground-up energy necessary to ensure a strong future for the PA and its members, much more so than the current trickle-down-ish model where massive contracts for superstars keep the average salary up while, in reality, the league exploits young, inexpensive players en masse.

My suggestion was to triple the minimum salary, and the reasoning why that instead of some other possible plans, like reaching free agency earlier, is below:

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