The most important deal being negotiated this offseason is not with a free agent. Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association are currently working on baseball's next collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA is set to expire Dec. 1. That's less than three weeks away.
Both sides have expressed optimism that a deal will get done before Dec. 1 and I believe them. MLB and the MLBPA both have too much to lose with a work stoppage. The game is extremely healthy financially as ratings and ticket sales approach record highs. The last thing either side wants is to push fans away after 21 years of labor peace.
Even with the optimism, getting the new CBA worked out won't be easy. Each side is going to push and pull to improve their end of the deal. And it's entirely possible that until the new CBA is worked out, the market for big-name free agents will be at a standstill. Teams might not want to commit huge money to players without knowing the new CBA terms.
Here is a breakdown of several hot-button items during this round of CBA negotiations.
A report last month said MLB is pushing for an intentional draft, which is no surprise. The owners have wanted an international draft for years because it helps reduce costs. A draft keeps bonuses down by limiting the player's leverage. They can only negotiate with one team, not 30.
Needless to say, current big leaguers who signed as international free agents are against an international draft. It hurts their countrymen by limiting bonuses. Nelson Cruz and Gary Sanchez are among those who have released videos speaking out against an international draft.
Now here's the problem: Amateur international free agents are not MLBPA members. They're prospects who have to work their way through the minors before becoming union members. As a result, MLBPA has no trouble negotiating away their rights during CBA talks. It's an easy concession to make.
At this point it's only a matter of time until an international draft is adopted. If it doesn't happen during this round of CBA talks, then it'll probably happen in the next round.
Ten free agents received the $17.2 million qualifying offer this offseason and they have until Monday afternoon to accept or reject it. Those who reject the qualifying offer will be tied to draft-pick compensation, meaning if they sign with a new team, that team has to forfeit its highest unprotected draft pick. The player's former team will gain a supplemental first rounder.
Draft-pick compensation is a major CBA item because we've seen more than a few players have to settle for smaller than expected contracts after rejecting the qualifying offer. Ian Desmond last year is the perfect example, but it also happened with Cruz and some others in recent years. MLBPA doesn't like that, understandably.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post hears MLB and the MLBPA may change the draft-pick compensation system with this CBA. From Sherman:
Just for example, draft-pick compensation tied to the qualifying offer has had many formulas discussed, including even MLB willing to consider removing the loss of draft picks by teams that sign a free agent who was given the qualifying offer. The team that lost a certain quality type of free agent still would receive compensation.
Sherman also says it's possible the current draft-pick compensation rules will remain in place this offseason before a new set of rules takes effect next year. Changing the rules in the middle of the winter would be less than ideal.
Severing the ties between the draft and free agency would be the best possible solution, but it doesn't sound like that will happen anytime soon. MLB wants teams to receive compensation for losing their best players while MLBPA doesn't want quality free agents to get hung out to dry like Desmond. A system that allows teams to sign qualified free agents and keep their draft picks seems like the best realistic solution.
MLB has had some form of revenue sharing since 1996, with the current system being in place since 2002. In a nutshell, MLB takes money from the wealthiest teams and gives it to the poorest teams to promote competitive balance. And you know what? The system is working as intended. More teams are in contention than ever before.
Inevitably, the revenue sharing system has created some bad blood between large-market owners and small-market owners. It's not so much the concept of revenue sharing -- after all, the large-market owners agreed to the system -- but how the money is being spent. Big-market teams don't want small-market teams pocketing their revenue sharing money.
The Marlins and Athletics in particular have come under scrutiny for what teams that pay into revenue sharing perceive as inadequate spending. They're not putting the revenue sharing back into the roster. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:
The current collective bargaining agreement, which ends Dec. 1, stipulates that revenue-sharing checks must go toward improving on-field performance and requires teams to detail the ways in which those monies were spent. In addition to big-league payroll, other expenditures that qualify include adding scouts or front-office staff, improving technology systems, and signing international players.
"There is leeway to justify other expenditures," a union official said. "But if a team shows no progress year after year and most of the revenue-sharing spending is on non-major-league salaries, red flags go up. There are clubs that other clubs look at and say, 'What are they doing? Is this really the best use of our money?'"
There are three parties in the revenue sharing battle: teams that pay revenue sharing, teams that receive revenue sharing and the players. The players want revenue sharing money spent on, well, players. Not scouting or front office staff. The players association nearly filed a grievance against the Marlins for their spending a few years ago.
Revenue sharing is not going away. It's possible the upcoming CBA will create a more transparent process that better details spending, or perhaps even reduces payments made to certain teams.
At the moment, teams are allowed to carry a 26th player during doubleheaders only. The players union has been pushing to permanently increase the roster from 25 players to 26 players for obvious reasons. That's 30 more big-league jobs and 30 more union members.
The owners, meanwhile, don't want to commit to a 26th roster spot because, again, it means added costs. It's not just salary either. The team also has to pay more into player benefits, worker's compensation, that sort of thing. An extra roster spot would change team building considerably as well.
It's unclear how realistic adding a 26th roster spot is during this round of CBA talks. Adding the 26th spot for doubleheaders in the previous CBA at least opened the door for 26-man rosters, and it stands to reason the union is going to keep trying to push that door open until it gets the extra roster spot.
Reducing the season from 162 games to 154 games has been on the docket for months. The MLBPA broached the subject a while ago because baseball's travel schedule is brutal. Teams plays 162 games in 183 days, which often includes night games in one city and day games in another city the next day.
Cutting eight games off the schedule is not as easy as it may seem. It's not simple at all, really. For starters, the owners would be losing four home games each, and that's a lot of money. Secondly, television contracts around the league -- both local and national -- stipulate a certain number of broadcasts per year. That's something that would have to be navigated.
My guess is the schedule won't be reduced with the new CBA -- the 2017 schedule has already been released and it is a 162-game schedule, for what it's worth -- and the MLBPA knows that. This seems like a long-term plan for the union. They planted the seed this year and will continue to push for a 154-game season during future CBA talks.