But MLB’s proposal, made on behalf of its 30 club owners, was met with disappointment from the players’ union, according to multiple people involved in the negotiations who declined to provide full details of the offer.
The extent of that disappointment will be critical to what happens next. The pivotal question entering Thursday’s meeting, according to multiple people who planned to be a part of it, was not what would be in the proposal. Instead, it was how the players would interpret the offer — as a genuine effort to bridge gaps or a cursory shift — and whether they would see fit to quickly counter.
Early indications Thursday afternoon offered no clarity. No further talks are scheduled, and the union has yet to decide how, when, or even if it will counter, according to multiple people familiar with those discussions.
For months, MLB has maintained that it has made concessions to the players — things such as removing draft pick compensation for teams that lose their own free agents (players believe that limits options in free agency) and adding a draft lottery to prevent teams from tanking. MLB views these as major concessions; the union does not.
The players believe MLB is nibbling at the edges of change with proposals such as those and are instead pursuing larger issues, such as reducing the time before players hit free agency or cutting revenue-sharing to prevent losing teams from earning money without spending it.
In a fitting representation of the size of the gap between the sides, MLB offered to raise the luxury tax threshold from $210 million to $214 million, a shift it believes is commensurate with historical norms (the previous CBA included annual raises of about $2 million to $3 million). The union sees historical precedent as somewhat irrelevant and wants a threshold of $245 million, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
MLB’s proposal Thursday centered on three of the union’s long-stated goals for the next CBA: paying younger players more, addressing recidivist losing and eliminating service time manipulation. According to people familiar with the proposal, it included more money for players with two-plus years of service time, a modified draft lottery so teams cannot try to lose their way to the first overall pick and a system by which teams that call up elite prospects for full seasons would be rewarded with draft picks. From MLB’s perspective, those changes, on top of the ones already offered, are good-faith efforts to move toward a deal.
But to the union, those changes do not go far enough. According to people familiar with their thinking, the players see a three-team draft lottery as a minimal change, one that won’t necessarily motivate, say, the Baltimore Orioles to win more simply because they won’t be guaranteed the No. 1 pick if they don’t. They would like a draft that rewards small-market teams for extra wins and a lottery that includes more teams to increase the risk that an annual loser would not only not get one of the first few picks but also could fall as far as seventh or eighth. Similarly, multiple people familiar with the union’s position are skeptical that draft pick compensation would be motivation enough to prevent teams from manipulating service time.
Whether the union views MLB’s offer as a genuine step in the right direction and worth countering with a proposal of its own remains to be seen. But MLB has made clear that the onus is now on the union to spur the next phase of negotiations. And with spring training scheduled to start in about a month, time is running out.
Another complicating factor — should a deal get done — would be getting the sides to agree on new coronavirus protocols ahead of spring training. The transaction window will have to be reopened, and teams will need at least a week or two to sign remaining free agents and craft rosters that were, at most, halfway complete when the lockout began.
All of that means the sides probably have about two weeks to agree to a new CBA before spring training is delayed. If spring training is delayed, an on-time Opening Day might be in peril, too: Pitchers, particularly starting pitchers, generally need several weeks to build up stamina ahead of the regular season. Spring training can only be cut short so far before the season would need to be pushed back, too.