Representatives from the league and the MLB Players Association met Sunday in New York, with the union bringing both some written responses and counter-proposals to the owners’ most recent collective bargaining agreement offer. Sunday’s negotiating session lasted for around an hour and 40 minutes, and details have begun to emerge (from The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and The Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes) about the union’s latest proposal.
Perhaps the most notable difference is that the players agreed to give the league the authority to make on-field changes within a 45-day window of initial proposal, in regard to three specific rules — a pitch clock, restrictions on the use of defensive shifts and the size of the bases. The last CBA gave the league the ability to implement rule changes a full year after an initial proposal to the union, and reports recently emerged that the owners were looking to drastically shorten that period of time in this latest agreement.
Any of the proposed rule changes would be explored via a committee that would have player representation. The three proposed rule changes would begin in the 2023 season. One other rule change that the MLBPA did decline was in regard to the “robo-ump,” or an automated system for calling balls and strikes.
The players had been seeking an $85M bonus pool for pre-arbitration players, though that number has now been dropped slightly to $80M. It should be noted that this would be the starting price for a pool that would be expected to gradually increase over the five-year span of the CBA, and presumably those increases are still part of the latest proposal. The drop to $80M probably isn’t too likely to get the league’s attention, as the owners have been open to the idea of a bonus pool, but at the much lower price of a flat $30M pool for each of the next five seasons.
Should teams surpass the various tiered thresholds of the luxury tax, the league had been proposing methods of punishment beyond just a financial penalty, such as the last CBA’s penalties of moving a team’s top draft pick back 10 slots if they exceeded the tax threshold by more than $40M. The MLBPA had been resistant to such “non-monetary penalties,” as Drellich called them, but the union has now OK’d some similar type of punishment in exchange for the elimination of the qualifying offer. The league had previously floated the idea of eliminating the QO, so teams who sign particular free agents would no longer have to give up draft picks as compensation, but the teams that lost said free agents would still get a pick.
In regard to the larger and more thorny issues of the luxury-tax thresholds themselves, the union made no changes to its past proposal. As well, the MLBPA stood by its previous demands for an increased minimum salary. The concept of an expanded postseason continues to factor into negotiations, yet while the union had been open to a 14-team playoff with a particular format, the players opted to just stick with a 12-team format on Sunday. The MLBPA also continued to decline the league’s overtures for an amateur draft for international players, and in regard to the domestic draft, the union still wants a proposed draft lottery to cover the top six picks in the draft (while the league wants only the top five picks impacted).
While the owners are sure to reject this proposal on the whole, some small positives could be taken from Sunday’s news, even if the bigger obstacles holding up a new CBA remain in place. The union’s previous issue with the league’s rule-change proposals had more to do with the introduction of the topic at what seemed to be a pretty late stage in CBA talks, rather than an objection to the content of the rule changes themselves. Given how the three rules in question have already been being tested at the minor league level, it was no surprise that the league was seeking implementation eventually, but commissioner Rob Manfred said back in December that the owners would likely hold off discussion of any alteration of on-field rules in order to focus on the big-picture financial concerns.
Limiting the 45-day implementation to just these three rules represents a seemingly acceptable compromise for both sides, and such, it now seems like a fairly safe bet that for the 2023 season, fans will see a pitch clock, larger bases and some changes to how teams deploy defensive shifting. Any of all of these concepts can be argued as ways to improve the on-field product, with the larger bases and the limited shifts in particular intended to promote more offense and action on balls hit into play.
A clock could also potentially lead to more action, should a pitcher (perhaps feeling the pressure of a ticking countdown) rushes a mistake pitch that the batter knocks for a hit. But in general, the pitch clock is intended to address the longstanding concern over the time and pace of games. The exact mechanics of the rules are still to be worked out and quite possibly determined by committee, and The Score’s Travis Sawchik also notes that the clock could be a way of enforcing rules already on the books about keeping batters in the box during plate appearances.
ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported earlier Sunday that the league was aiming for a 14-second pitch clock with the bases empty, and a 19-second clock with runners on base. This represents a change from the times tested in low-A ball last season, as pitchers had 15 seconds to throw with the bases empty and 17 seconds when a runner was on base. Looking at the numbers from 2021, the clock seemed to indeed result in shorter games, as the low-A games saw a reduction of about 21 minutes in the average game time.