We’re 3+ months into the MLB lockout, and the progress has been minimal. The sides met for 8 straight days and barely got anywhere. MLBPA dug themselves deep into the trenches and they’re calling MLB’s bluff at every corner. Let’s make this very clear right off the bat: the owners did this. They have nobody to blame but themselves.
There appeared to be some momentum late on Monday night as negotiations went early into Tuesday morning, but it was all for naught. It was a ploy by MLB to try to get fans to believe that MLB was trying to make a deal and that players were being greedy. Don’t be fooled, it’s quite the opposite. In fact MLB never intended to make a deal. That, folks, is what we call negotiating in bad faith. They wanted to try to bully the players into a deal with the threat of canceled games. What they didn’t expect was for the players to stand their ground and not give in.
What the players are asking for is not unreasonable. Among the main issues are a higher minimum salary, a pre-arbitration pool and an increased CBT threshold. Don’t get me wrong, there are other issues still on the table such as an international draft (which owners want) and a 14-team playoff (which owners want as well). MLBPA is opposed to an international draft, but they’re open to expanding the playoffs. As of Tuesday, they had agreed to increase the number of playoff teams to 12, but Max Scherzer also said they’re willing to discuss a 14-team playoff as long as the format is rewarding to division winners. Like with all of these other issues, it all comes down to money. More teams in the playoffs mean more revenue for the owners, so players are going to want their cut of that as well. Again though, these two issues are unlikely to make or break a potential agreement between the two sides because the minimum salary, pre-arbitration pool and increased CBT threshold are where most of the disagreement lies.
Of the four major sports, MLB has BY FAR the lowest minimum salary. For reference, in 2021, NFL’s minimum salary was $705,000, NHL’s minimum salary was $750,000 and NBA’s minimum salary was $925,258. MLB’s minimum salary last year was $570,500, which is $134,500 less than any other league. In MLB’s “final offer” they offered to bring minimums up to $700,000, which is nice, but it would STILL put MLB players last among the three other sports in minimum salaries. What’s astounding is that MLB and the NFL are the two most profitable leagues, yet they have the lowest league minimums.
The pre-arbitration pool is another sticking point among players. MLBPA had been asking for around $100 million and MLB had been countering around $15-20 million. MLBPA came down to $85 million on Tuesday and the league’s “final offer” was at $30 million. Again, they’re not even close. Now of the three remaining issues, I think that this one specifically is the one that MLBPA will ultimately be most willing to move on. If they can negotiate a higher CBT by giving in on the pre-arbitration pool, they’re going to do it. That’s because the CBT is the elephant in the room in these negotiations.
For weeks, neither side even wanted to make a CBT proposal. The two sides are so far apart on this specific area that this alone could drag negotiations into late Spring. On top of the large monetary gap, players feel lied to and they feel that owners are being sneaky and letting the CBT act as a de facto salary cap (which they’re right about). That was not what the CBT was put in place to do, though. The CBTs intention was to create more competitive balance by penalizing teams for exceeding the cap. If a team chooses to go over it, they pay a tax and lose draft pick compensation. It’s a minuscule price to pay for big market teams. In recent years, however, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies have gotten under the tax line and vowed to stay under the tax line. In 2018, If you didn’t know any better, you would’ve thought Mark Lerner had a stroke writing a check when the Nationals went over the tax, saying at the time that he didn’t expect the team to exceed the tax again.
The CBT from the previous CBA went from $195 million, to $197 million, to $206 million, to $208 million finally to $210 million. MLB is steadfast in keeping the CBT at or below $220 million to start. MLBPA’s starting ask was at $245 million and they’ve come down to $238 million. There’s room for negotiation, but the players are going to dig in deep on this one. When there are multiple teams going right up to the luxury tax without going over it every single year, the CBT truly acts like a salary cap. With revenues soaring, there’s no reason that the CBT is increasing a small percentage each year. The increase in CBT should be consistent with the revenues teams are generating. TV contracts alone are netting teams in excess of $100 million in revenue per year. That’s money that teams are getting up front without even selling a ticket. Yet, we have teams who have payrolls under $100 million year in and year out.
There’s really no hope in trying to make smaller market teams like the Pirates or Guardians spend more with a “floor”, but allowing more room under the CBT for the teams that are willing to spend will put more money in players’ pockets. When a floor was proposed, MLB proposed that the floor be $100 million, but that the CBT go down to $180 million with stiffer penalties for exceeding it. MLBPA will never go for reducing the CBT, nor should they. Emotions truly run high on this specific issue, which is why the CBT alone could drag these negotiations into April-May. I think MLBPA would settle at around $230 million for the first year here with the CBT increasing $3 million or so each year over the course of the agreement. Anything less probably won’t get a deal done.
I’ve seen a whole lot of people complaining that this is just millionaires vs billionaires. People are up in arms that Max Scherzer, who will have made nearly $360 million throughout his career after his contract with the Mets is over, drove a new Porsche to these negotiations. What wasn’t mentioned was that multiple owners flew in on their private helicopters or private jets. The thing is, most of us will never be able to relate to either of these sides. Hell, if I made the league minimum of $570,500 you might even see me pushing a Porsche like Scherzer. But what we can relate to is a group of people trying to give themselves and future generations better earning power. That’s exactly what the players are doing here and they should continue to stand strong in doing so.