MLB moves closer toward union’s asks on minimum salary

With three hours remaining until Major League Baseball’s stated end of February deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement that avoids disruption to the start of the regular season, there seems to be some progress in negotiations. The parties continue to talk deep into the evening, and various reports suggest the league has moved in the Players Association’s direction on a few key areas.

Jeff Passan of ESPN reports (on Twitter) that the league has offered more player-favorable provisions than it had been in the past on issues like the league minimum salary, the bonus pool for pre-arbitration players and the competitive balance tax. Passan cautions that there hasn’t been enough movement for a deal to be imminent, but it’s possible the sides make enough progress tonight that the league pushes back its deadline to avoid game cancellations to tomorrow so they could continue to negotiate.

As has been the case throughout negotiations, a primary goal of the league’s is to expand the postseason field. MLB has sought a 14-team field; the MLBPA has agreed to go beyond the current-10 team playoff format but has drawn the line at 12 teams thus far. The league has put forth two concurrent proposals to the union on the league minimum and the bonus pool, reports Evan Drellich of the Athletic (Twitter link). In the event of a 12-team playoff, the league is offering an approximate $675K minimum salary and would agree to set aside around $20MM for the bonus pool; if the union agreed to a 14-team postseason, the league would agree to a minimum in the $700K range with approximately $40M for the bonus pool.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that MLB has also lowered its desired penalties for clubs that exceed the luxury tax threshold. Specifics of MLB’s latest proposal aren’t clear, but the league has pursuit heightened penalties for tax payors in prior asks. The union has been vehemently opposed to that possibility, fearing stronger penalties would cause the CBT thresholds to function more akin to a salary cap. Andy Martino of SNY reports that the league is still seeking higher penalties than existed in the previous CBA but has apparently moved closer towards the status quo than it’d sought in prior offers.

It’s unquestionably a positive development for fans anxiously awaiting any meaningful progress in CBA talks. However, it’s important for fans not to put the cart before the horse. Drellich adds that a deal is still “not close,” and it’s certainly not a given that the momentum will continue to roll towards an agreement in the coming days. A union source tells reporters (including Chris Cotillo of MassLive) the parties are “still very far apart on key aspects” needed to reach an agreement.

Indeed, the league’s offers on the minimum and pre-arb bonus pool are more favorable to players than their prior offers (particularly those tied to a 14-team playoff), but they’re still shy of the players’ targets. The union has been seeking a $775K minimum next season that’d rise by $30K each year of the CBA term. The MLBPA has sought a $115MM pool for pre-arb players, $75MM more than the league’s offer tied to a 14-team postseason.

It’s also unclear where specifically the parties stand on the CBT. The union has been seeking a spike to $245M for the base luxury tax threshold next season, while the league’s latest known offer was at $214M. It’s possible MLB has expressed some willingness to raise the lowest CBT number, but it’s doubtful they’ve agreed to jump all the way to $245M. The union has also sought a slight expansion in the number of players eligible for arbitration; the MLBPA is seeking Super Two eligibility for 35% of players with between two and three years of service time, while MLB has steadfastly refused to entertain any jump over the status quo of 22% in that bucket.

Where things go from here remain very much up in the air. It doesn’t seem likely a new CBA will be finalized tonight, but it does at least appear there’s a chance they’ll progress enough to avoid the league formally declaring the cancelation of regular season games. Martino tweets that the sides are preparing for the possibility of negotiations carrying on “deep into the night.”

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