MLB labor talks take turn for worse because of owners’ intransigence


JUPITER, Fla — If it’s looking increasingly like you’re screwed if you love baseball, Saturday did at least provide some clarity at the unsubtly named Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium:

We now have ourselves a bona fide side to blame.

Because on Day 6 of the Jupiter Summit, with only two days left before Major League Baseball’s deadline to cancel the scheduled Opening Day of March 31, the MLB Players Association won the race to reach a reasonable neighborhood with its proposal. And the owners, still receiving their mail in the imaginary world of Pleasantville, responded like Dikembe Mutombo in the lane, blocking the notion and wagging their collective finger.

Which infuriated the players. Which made an on-time start to the season less likely than ever, even with the sides agreeing to meet again Sunday.

After what transpired on Saturday, it’s impossible to not conclude that the owners — or, to be fair, a sufficient percentage of them — would be perfectly fine punting on the revenue sinkhole that is April.

The PA, in a wide-ranging proposal, made two big moves, one on arbitration eligibility and one on revenue sharing. In the first, they lowered their ask on the “Super 2” class — those between two and three years of service who get paid through the arbitration process — from 75 percent to 35 percent. That class stood at 22 percent in 2021. In the second, they withdrew their desire for a major cut in revenue sharing (their previous ask was a $30 million decrease) and floated the modest notion of incentivizing small-market clubs to generate more revenue from their own areas.

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
Getty Images; AP

Rather than serving as pie-in-the-sky revenge fantasies (in the wake of the disastrous 2016 Basic Agreement) that defined most of the players’ asks, these ideas begged for engagement. They served as a foundation. Yet since the start of these negotiations, the owners have declared arbitration and revenue-sharing, as well as the free-agent timeline, to be third-rail issues: immovable and non-negotiable — the same way the players regard a salary cap.

Well, when you get to a 13 percent differential in the arbitration proposals and a minor tweak to revenue-sharing — ideas open for further shaping, let’s reiterate — and they’re still third-rail? It stops indicting the players and starts indicting Rob Manfred for not being able to effectively herd his cats. Rest assured, the ownership defiance on this issue stands as far from unanimous. If you think the Yankees and Mets want to blow up the sport over these issues, then I’d like to sell you on the laughable notion that MLB teams are bad investments for owners.

To be clear, the players’ proposal as it stands requires some more work. They should come down a good amount on their competitive-balance tax thresholds, which they dropped slightly on Saturday as the owners responded with their own admittedly lousy counter. They need to work on the club’s ideas to implement on-field changes more quickly, although the players must have equal representation in a committee involved in that.

Their bonus pool for pre-arbitration players should decrease significantly from the current $115 million — $40 million sounds about right — and their minimum salary can dip from $775,000 this season to $700,000.

Players also should give in on the 14-team playoff, which would get them the draft-lottery structure, with the top six picks in play, that they want. And they should sign off on the clubs’ offer, not insignificant, to ensure a year’s service for players who finish in the top two of the Rookie of the Year voting.

Yes, so much heavy lifting remains that it might be impossible to finish by Monday even if the owners played ball on arbitration. When they don’t, though, it’s understandably dispiriting. Owners hate the arbitration process. Can’t blame them, but c’est la vie. If wearing advertising patches on uniforms doesn’t excite players, they’ll do it to bring in more dough.

It’s a big mess, the game held hostage by some hawk owners. What a terrible development. What a terrible look, one that can change in time if Manfred either twists some owners’ arms or comes up hugely in other areas. Something, anything that will get the commissioner and his bosses into “Let’s Make a Deal” territory. The players anxiously await their arrival.

What more do you want?

Here are the new offers the Major League Baseball Players Association made on Saturday:

  1. They dropped their offer for the “Super 2” class (players with between two and three years service who gain eligibility for arbitration) from 75 percent to 35 percent. The current Super 2 class is 22 percent.
  2. They changed their revenue-sharing proposal so that it would no longer cut any money for the payees (their last offer called for a $30 million cut), but would offer incentives for small-market clubs that generate more revenue from their local markets. The idea would not significantly hurt any payees.
  3. They lowered their competitive-balance tax thresholds by $2 million each in 2023 (from $252 million to $250 million), 2024 (from $259 million to $257 million) and 2025 (from $266 million to $264 million).



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