Major League Baseball’s spring training delayed as labor talks drag on
The final blow has been dealt to an on-time start to spring training, with Major League Baseball making a new offer Saturday that the players’ association received as only scant progress in the drawn-out labor talks.
On the 73rd day of a lockout that has become the second-longest work stoppage in baseball history, clubs gave the union 16 documents totaling 130 pages, encompassing all key areas in a mix of new offers and previous proposals.
The one-hour session was just the fifth on core economics since the lockout began, and the first on a weekend. The sides remained far apart on luxury tax thresholds and rate, with major differences on revenue-sharing and how to address players’ allegations of service time manipulation. MLB said it remains opposed to any increase in salary arbitration eligibility or reduction in revenue sharing.
The players’ union said it would analyze the offer before determining when and how to respond.
Baseball’s ninth work stoppage — and first since 1995 — began Dec. 2 following the expiration of a five-year labor contract. Training camps will remain shuttered Wednesday, when pitchers and catchers had been scheduled to start workouts for a 2022 season that remains in doubt.
MLB does not intend to publicly acknowledge any delay until it becomes apparent that preseason exhibition games cannot begin as scheduled on Feb. 26.
Opening day is set for March 31, and players don’t start accruing salary until the regular season. Given the need for 21-28 days of training and additional time to report and go through COVID-19 protocols, an agreement by the end of February or early March is needed for an on-time start.
Three officials from each side attended the session at MLB’s office, with players and owners joining by Zoom.
MLB maintained its proposal on luxury-tax thresholds for 2022 and 2023, an increase from $210 million to $214 million in both years. Teams increased their proposal by $2 million annually in each of the final three years of a deal: $216 million in 2024, $218 million in 2025 and $222 million in 2026.
Players have proposed a $245 million luxury-tax threshold for this year, which would rise to $273 million in 2026.
MLB also has proposed increasing the tax rate from 20% to 50% for a team exceeding the initial threshold, from 32% to 75% for the second threshold and from 62.5% to 100% for the third threshold.
Teams still are asking for non-monetary penalties, which the union thinks is too harsh.
While MLB dropped its plan to have a team lose a third-round pick for exceeding the first threshold, it has proposed a team would lose a second-round pick for going over the second threshold ($234 million this year and next) rather than dropping 10 slots and would forfeit a first-round selection for exceeding the third threshold ($254 million).
The union fears teams would refuse to go over the threshold, prizing draft picks.
On free agency, clubs maintained their proposal to eliminate the loss of an amateur draft pick for a team signing a free agent — an area of dispute that led to a 50-day in-season strike in 1981.
But the clubs did keep in the plan that a team losing a free agent will receive draft-pick compensation based on revenue-sharing status and whether a club had been over the threshold.
For a free agent who had spent the entire season with one team, there would would be four tiers based on:
— $25 million in guaranteed salary or $18 million average annual value (AAV),
— $55 million or $23 million AAV,
— $100 million or $30 million AAV,
— $150 million or $40 million AAV.
The union’s initial thoughts have been that this proposed level of indirect compensation could be a disincentive for a team to retain players who are eligible for free agency eligible players, and have asked that luxury-tax status be removed from the formula.
In other areas:
— MLB proposed raising the minimum salary from $570,500 to $630,000 or, alternatively, a tiered minimum of $615,000 for initial major leaguers, $650,000 for players with one year of service and $725,000 for those with two years — the latter an increase from $700,000 in the previous proposal. Players have asked for $775,000 this year, rising to $875,000 by 2026.
— MLB offered to increase the pre-arbitration bonus pool from $10 million to $15 million, while the union is at $100 million under a structure that clubs said they would accept. MLB estimated pre-arbitration players would receive $200 million more from 2022-26 than they had in the previous five years.
About 30 pre-arbitration players annually would earn more based on WAR, appearances on an all-MLB team and recognition such as best position player, best pitcher and best rookie.
As examples, Milwaukee pitcher Cobin Burnes would have increased last year from $608,000 to $2.6 million, Toronto first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. from $635,400 to $2 million, Cincinnati second baseman Jonathan India from $570,500 to $1.34 million and Tampa Bay outfielder Randy Arozarena from $581,200 to $1.3 million.
— To address allegations of service time manipulation, over which the union has filed six grievances since 2015, MLB offered to award two draft picks — one amateur, one international — for a players’ accomplishments in his first three seasons. While that is up from one selection, the union opposes an international draft.
— To counter roster churn, MLB proposed a limit of five optional assignments of a player to the minor leagues each season.
— Addressing the Mets’ decision not to sign Kumar Rocker after selecting him 10th in last year’s amateur draft, clubs offered to guarantee a drafted amateur who participates in the pre-draft physical program a contract of at least 75% of slot value, with a stipulation that a player who passes a pre-draft physical cannot be flunked for his post-draft physical.
— MLB remained at three teams in a proposed draft lottery, while players are at eight.
— MLB is proposing an expansion of the playoffs from 10 teams to 14, while the union is offering 12.
— Both sides would expand the designated hitter to the National League.
— MLB wants uniform advertising patches, which the union says it would accept subject to an overall agreement.