MLB talks produce progress, anger as deadline approaches
JUPITER, Fla. -- Major League Baseball negotiations took several steps forward and overcame a possible breakdown Saturday, leaving less than two days until management’s deadline for an agreement to salvage opening day on March 31 and a 162-game schedule.
While the sides moved toward each other on some topics, they remained far apart on the biggest economic issues: luxury tax thresholds and rates, the minimum salary and the new pre-arbitration bonus pool.
Players were angered by the state of negotiations at the end of Saturday’s session and would not commit to extending talks. After internal discussions, they agreed to meet for a seventh staight day Sunday.
MLB says if there is not an agreement by the end of Monday, it would start canceling regular-season games because there will not be enough training time to play a full schedule. Players have not said whether they agree to that as a deadline and could make due with a shorter spring training.
Once Monday passes, the length of the schedule would become yet another issue in the dispute, along with possible lost pay and service time.
The union has told MLB if games are missed and salaries are lost, clubs should not expect players to agree to management proposals to expand the postseason and allow advertisements on uniforms and helmets.
For all the rancor, there was progress that saw the sides align on some issues.
Teams agreed for the first time to credit a full year of major league service to players who finish first or second in Rookie of the Year voting in each league by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, as long as they are among the top 100 prospects and did not spend the full season on the big league roster. This would address the union’s contention that teams are delaying debuts of budding stars such as Kris Bryant to delay their free agency.
The sides also agreed that the proposed lottery in the annual amateur draft would be for the first six selections. While the union thought it was on the verge of an agreement on that topic Friday, teams angered the union by linking that to players agreeing to expand the postseason from 10 teams to 14, rather the 12 the union prefers.
The players moved toward MLB on salary arbitration, cutting from 75% to 35% for those who would be eligible from the group with at least two seasons of service but less than three. Management says it will not move from 22%, the cutoff since 2013.
With the move Saturday, the eligibility of only about 15-18 players annually is at issue.
Clubs stayed at a $214 million tax threshold, up from $210 million last season, and increased their 2023 proposal by $1 million to $215 million. They left 2024 at $216 million with $2 million hikes in each of the final two seasons.
Teams cut the tax rate for exceeding the threshold from 50% to 45%, lowered the rate for exceeding by $20 million from 75% to 62% and the proposal for exceeding by $40 million from 100% to 95%.
MLB characterized its tax proposal as intentionally lousy, in response to a union tax proposal teams felt was equally lousy.
Players object to the rates as increases from the current figures of 20% for the first threshold, 32% for the second and 62.5% for the third. Clubs say they in turn are eliminating higher rates for recidivist teams that exceed the initial threshold in consecutive years.
The union would raise the threshold to $245 million this year and increase it to $273 million by 2026. It would keep rates of the expired agreement and eliminate non-financial penalties.
While the sides have agreed to the pre-arbitration bonus pool from central revenue, the union wants $115 million distributed to 150 players and management wants $20 million to be split among 30.
The union withdrew its proposal to cut revenue sharing by $30 million annually but kept its plan to give small-market teams an incentive to grow locally generated revenue. The union would have the incentive money designated from central revenue, which it estimates would cost any club no more than $1 million in a year in revenue sharing.
The union also kept its proposal to limit optional assignments to five annually. Teams had tied that to a provision regulating the number of minor league contracts but then withdrew the proposal.
Teams inserted a new obstacle to a deal, proposing on-field rules changes could be made with 45 days’ notice by a committee comprised of six management officials, two union representatives and one umpire. Currently, management can only change rules with union consent or unilaterally with one year notice.
The MLB proposal would likely pave the way for a pitch clock.
Owners still are proposing an international draft, which the union opposes.
The six days of negotiations on central economics this week matched the total from the start of the lockout through Feb. 19.
Mets pitcher Max Scherzer and shortstop Francisco Lindor, Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole and free agent reliever Andrew Miller were among the players at the talks. Baseball’s ninth work stoppage, it first since 1995, was in its 87th day.
The sides arrived at noon, an hour earlier than every previous session this year, then caucused for nearly 2 1/2 hours. The union held a Zoom session for its player representatives, about 30, which has been its deliberative method.