Probably, straightening out Major League Baseball ranks as harder than armchair labor lawyers like yours truly portray it.
Definitely, it should be easier than the actual negotiating parties make it seem.
MLB and its Players Association find themselves so dysfunctional — virtually nothing has happened in the month-plus since Rob Manfred shut down the sport with a Dec. 2 lockout — that it doesn’t feel alarmist to already wonder whether the season will start on time, March 31. The notion of spring training beginning in mid-February appears as far-flung a fantasy as Michigan’s football team winning a national championship anytime soon.
It doesn’t help that the principals for the two sides truly loathe each other, nor that Manfred faces the standard commissioner’s challenge of corralling his owners (big-market, mid-market and small-market) into a unified front, nor that the union got routed by the equivalent of a 92-4 basketball score in the last collective bargaining agreement in 2016.
After surveying folks from both sides of the aisle, here’s this armchair labor lawyer’s attempt to get the sport back on track.
1. Payroll floors
This shall be my capstone, an underrated and underappreciated device that can address the players’ concerns about competitive balance as well as fair compensation for players in their 30s. Earlier in this round of bargaining, the clubs proposed payroll floors of $100 million in return for a payroll tax beginning at the $180 million level (exempt from bells and whistles such as repeat-offender penalties and dropped draft picks that come with higher thresholds). The players, philosophically opposed to a floor because they don’t want a ceiling, turned it down. Except they currently face a soft ceiling, one teams treat as pretty darn hard, in the luxury-tax thresholds. It’s time to give up that ghost.
Let’s try this: The Orioles operated the lowest payroll in 2021, a gaunt $58 million (thanks, Spotrac). How about establishing the 2022 payroll floor as $60 million then raising it by $10 million each season so that it stands at $100 million by 2026 (the standard CBA runs five years)? Eight teams spent less than $100 million last year. A failure to reach this base by Opening Day would result in forfeited draft picks.
2. The luxury tax
In recognition of the floors, continue the modest threshold uptick of the past CBA (from $189 million in 2016 to $210 million in 2021), which would lift it to $231 million by 2026. Keep the aforementioned bells and whistles. That would still inflict some pain on Steve Cohen and his fellow big-market owners who want to go well above and beyond these thresholds.
3. Revenue sharing
As first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, MLB told the PA in its final meeting, hours before Manfred instituted the lockout, that it would talk about any core economic issues besides the free-agency clock, the arbitration pool or revenue sharing. Which is like paying big bucks at a charity auction to have lunch with Ringo Starr, only to arrive at the restaurant and have Ringo say, “Absolutely no questions about The Beatles.” It’s not unreasonable to ask the revenue-sharing payees to account for the dollars they receive and face consequences for mishandling them.
4. Minimum player salary
It was $570,500 last season. Increase that to $1.2 million in 2022 and get it to $1.5 million by 2026. That will ease the players’ pain of the arbitration pool not changing and help those whose careers don’t last very long.
No, out of respect for the owners’ wishes, I won’t expand the Super-2 class (players with between two and three years of service who qualify) by so much as one member. Heaven forbid. Rather, I want to eradicate the inherent tension in this system, and save wear and tear on teams’ front offices. Devise a mathematical formula for an arbitration fund to which each team contributes a designated amount based on the number of arbitration-eligible players they employ and the service time of those players. Then tell the PA, “You distribute it as you wish to your players.” If the agents won’t be happy to see their relevance diminished, it’ll be far less painful for everyone.
6. A weighted draft lottery including all teams that miss the playoffs (and favoring the worst teams)
Like with the NBA, ensure that the club with the worst record selects no lower than fifth. But if a team finishes in the bottom five three straight years, it cannot draft in the top five for three straight years. Massive losing must be disincentivized.
7. A 14-team postseason
It’s too much new revenue to turn down, and I think most clubs will react positively to an increased chance at playoff action. Just remember, however, when the trade deadline suffers, you have been warned.
8. The universal DH
Owners secretly want it, too, even as they utilize it as a bargaining chip.
9. Eliminate draft-pick penalties for free agents
Teams that lose qualified free agents can still gain a pick (like the Mets for Noah Syndergaard), yet the signing team (the Angels, with Syndergaard) need not sacrifice a pick.
10. Seven-inning doubleheaders for 2022, at least
Because it feels naive to think COVID-19 won’t be a factor this coming season, and the shorter games mitigate the talent’s exposure and fatigue. When you get one of those “Fan buys a ticket for a nine-inning game, then it turns into a seven-inning game via a makeup split doubleheader” situation, then every fan at that contest receives a $15 food coupon. No, the food coupons need not be collectively bargained. They’re crucial, though.
11. Pitch clocks
The plan calls for the core economic issues to be settled before the two sides step on the field, metaphorically speaking, to deal with stuff like this. Nevertheless, both sides must recognize that the games themselves rank as just as high a concern as the industry-wide competitiveness.
The average nine-inning game in 2021 lasted 3 hours and 10 minutes, the worst ever (thanks, Baseball-Reference.com). In Low-A West, officials introduced, midseason, the new pitch timer: 15 seconds, with just two pickoff attempts or step-offs per at-bat. Per MLB, the average time of games dropped from 3:02 to 2:41. Strikeouts dropped and stolen bases increased, both great things.
So this needs to happen. It’s the hero baseball deserves. In 2022, use it in exhibition games and all minor league games. Then implement it for the big leagues in 2023.
The players should realize they can’t hit an 88-point shot with one heave. It’s going to take time to make up the ground they lost from that 2016 blowout. The owners, meanwhile, must cease and desist their egregiously paternalistic stance that the players should appreciate how good they have it relative to North American’s other major professional athletes and just get a deal done.
As their customers battle the continuing pandemic, inflation and so much more, it’s on baseball’s owners and players, all of them one-percenters, to stop the pettiness and start bargaining. They could simply sign off on this proposal or, if this somehow doesn’t work, they could hash out their own plan. It really would be appallingly shortsighted, though, for their animosity to further damage their product, which has taken more than its share of hits in the past five years.
(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)