Sweeping MLB proposal leaves union underwhelmed, all but ensuring spring training delay

On Saturday, MLB gave the players a 130-page proposal, the most sweeping one made since the lockout began on Dec. 2, that included adjustments to several core economic issues but ultimately left union officials underwhelmed, according to sources.

With no other bargaining session immediately scheduled and both sides believing there is still a lot of ground to bridge, this effectively ensures pitchers and catchers will not report to spring training this week as scheduled, an outcome that has long seemed inevitable.

The updated proposals are:

  • MLB had previously proposed tiered minimum salaries of $615,000 for players with zero to one year of service time, $650,000 for players between one and two years and $700,000 for those between two and three years. Its latest proposal was either a tiered system with the minimum for the top end raised to $725,000 (the other two tiers remained at the previously proposed level) OR to a $630,000 minimum for all pre-arbitration players. The union has most recently proposed a $775,000 minimum for all pre-arb players.

  • One of the few areas of significant progress so far in these negotiations has been the league’s ideological acceptance of a bonus pool for pre-arbitration players that is designed to compensate the most valuable young players at a rate more commensurate with their production. The union’s most recent proposal was for a $100 million pool. On Saturday, the league raised its proposal from $10 million to $15 million.

  • Both sides have proposed provisions designed to disincentivize service time manipulation, although the mechanisms are different. MLB had previously proposed rewarding teams with a draft pick if a young player who accrues a full season of service in his rookie year wins certain awards or achieves certain benchmarks in any of his first three seasons. Previously, the proposal allowed teams to “cash in” only once — for example, if a player won Rookie of the Year in his first season and MVP the next, his team would only receive one draft pick. The league’s latest proposal amended that so teams can get two draft picks over the course of a star player’s first three seasons if he hits the reward benchmarks more than once — one pick in the domestic draft and one pick in the international draft, which would exist only if the union agrees to it as part of these negotiations.

  • Throughout the lockout, now in its third month, neither side had made a new proposal on the competitive balance tax after leaving off many millions and a significant change to the penalties apart. MLB had last proposed thresholds (for each year of the CBA) at $214 million, $214 million, $214 million, $216 million and $220 million. Under the new proposal delivered Saturday, the thresholds would be $214 million, $214 million, $216 million, $218 million, $222 million. Players have been particularly concerned about the league’s proposed penalties for teams that go over the soft cap, which would be significantly stricter than those in the expired CBA, both in terms of tax rates and the draft penalties. MLB offered a slight mitigation on Saturday, maintaining a 50% tax for going over the first threshold but removing the forfeiture of a third-round draft pick. The penalties for going over the second and third thresholds remained the same — taxes at 75% and 100% and forfeiture of a second- and first-round pick, respectively.

MLB delivered a comprehensive proposal to the players on Saturday, but it did not move far enough to inspire optimism among union officials. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MLB delivered a comprehensive proposal to the players on Saturday, but it did not move far enough to inspire optimism among union officials. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Included Saturday were some previously discussed proposals: a provision limiting the number of times a player can be optioned to the minors in a single season. MLB’s proposal would set that number at five, where the union has previously proposed four. And, in light of what happened when the New York Mets drafted Kumar Rocker, the league’s proposal added an assurance that if players participate in a predraft physical, they will receive an offer of at least 75% of the slot value of the pick where they’re selected. The drafting club could not back out by failing the player in a post-draft physical.

Also included were the existing proposals for a universal designated hitter, an expanded postseason, the elimination of draft pick penalties for teams that sign free agents (teams that lose a free agent could still receive a compensatory pick) and a draft lottery designed to address tanking. The two sides are far apart on the exact details of the postseason and the draft lottery, but some version of both is likely to be in the final CBA.

The league positioned this as a comprehensive proposal designed to streamline negotiations by laying out a single common framework. But that framework is based on carrying over the status quo on revenue sharing and arbitration eligibility, two topics the league has said are non-starters but the union has sought changes on. It also presupposes that the union will sign off on an international draft.

As commissioner Rob Manfred indicated in a news conference Thursday, the two sides discussed the dwindling runway to get a deal done in time for a scheduled March 31 opening day.

MLB seems content to let the start of spring training, with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report this week, become logistically impossible without a formal announcement. But the league will have to say something official once spring training games for which fans have purchased tickets become imperiled. Those are scheduled to start Feb. 26.

In his news conference, Manfred indicated spring training would likely need to be at least four weeks. When you include a couple days after an agreement for both sides to ratify the new CBA and report to camp, that puts the deadline for an on-time opening day somewhere near the end of this month.