When MLB imposed a Feb. 28 deadline for a Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Players Association felt it was something that could be worked around if a deal was close. Instead, MLB doubled down on this deadline by saying games would be cancelled outright if a deal was not made by this Monday.
Now, as we reach that dreaded Feb. 28 deadline, there appears to be little optimism surrounding the ability to get a deal done. On Sunday, the seventh straight day of negotiations, MLB and the Players Association did not even trade formal proposals.
Instead, they spoke about individual issues and what it would take to get a deal done by Monday. However, this list is relatively long still, and it hasn’t helped that MLB continues to drag their feet on any sort of compromise.
In fact, MLB reportedly changed course on the elimination of the qualifying offer — something they already agreed to — in order to use it as leverage in other areas of talks, according to Ronald Blum of the Associated Press:
Players and teams enter deadline day far apart on many key issues and unresolved on others. The most contentious proposals involve luxury tax thresholds and rates, the size of a new bonus pool for pre-arbitration players, minimum salaries, salary arbitration eligibility and the union’s desire to change the club revenue sharing formula.
In addition, MLB has tied the elimination of direct free-agent compensation to players agreeing to higher luxury tax rates and still wants to expand the playoffs to 14 teams rather than the union’s preference for 12. MLB also has kept its proposal for an international amateur draft on the table.
To add to all of this, the two sides remain extremely far apart of competitive balance tax (CBT) and a pre-arbitration bonus pool.
MLB is offering to raise the luxury tax threshold from $210 million last season to $214 million this year, increasing it to $220 million by 2026. Teams also want higher tax rates, which the union says would tend to act like a salary cap.
Players have asked for a $245 million threshold this year, rising to $273 million by the final season.
The union wants to expand arbitration to include the top 35% by service time of players with at least two seasons of major league service and less than three, up from the 22% cutoff in place since 2013.
The union proposed the pre-arbitration pool have $115 million distributed to 150 players and management wants $20 million to be split among 30.
At this point, it almost feels too easy to blame the owners for their lack of willingness to compromise. Despite having more power than any ownership in any other major sport, they refuse to concede even an ounce of financial leverage.
They quickly forget — and are soon to be reminded if games are cancelled — that it’s the players that make baseball what it is. There are no replacements for players like Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and others.
If MLB and its ownership were willing to make even minor concessions on CBT, the pre-arb. bonus pool, and minimum salaries, a deal could be done within minutes. Instead, they continue to make life difficult as they near a deadline that they imposed without any pressure to do so.
Hopefully, all of this nastiness can be put aside and a deal can miraculously come together. If not, it would be a true worst-case-scenario for baseball.