On Tuesday, the Players Association and Major League Baseball's bargaining representatives held another face-to-face meeting in an effort to bring an end to the ongoing owner lockout that's brought the sport to a halt. The meeting marked the second time in the last eight days that the two sides have discussed what has become known as the "core economic issues" facing baseball.
Here's how Evan Drellich of The Athletic characterized Tuesday's meeting, which took place at MLB headquarters in New York City and lasted roughly 90 minutes:
Today’s 90-minute meeting between MLB, MLBPA was heated. Some owners and players participated. The MLBPA made moves in two areas: service-time manipulation, and pre-arb bonus pool (dropped request from $105 million to $100 million). TBD when next core economics meeting will be.— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) February 1, 2022
The pool of money to be distributed to players not yet eligible for salary arbitration -- i.e., those with fewer than three years of MLB service time, in most cases -- is something each side has proposed. However, the two sides are not particularly close on how large the bonus pool should be. As for service-time manipulation, which is when a club keeps a clearly ready prospect in the minors for just long enough to delay his arbitration and free agency eligibility, the players are showing movement here, too. The union previously proposed granting a full year of service time to those rookies ranking at a certain level in terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
Now, per Drellich, the union is proposing fewer players be eligible for such a service-time boost. The union also signed on to the general framework of an MLB proposal to "reward" teams that don't manipulate service time with additional draft picks.
This marks the second straight negotiating session in which the MLBPA has moved its positions. During the Jan. 25 bargaining meetings, the union stepped back from asking for free agency to be tied to a player's age in any way and significantly scaled how much it wants to reduce the revenue-sharing pool.
The sides met again Wednesday, but they reportedly did not discuss economic issues. Instead, topics for this meeting included the universal designated hitter and expanded playoffs. More from MLB Network's Jon Heyman:
“Talks haven’t yet begun,” is the way one players side person put it. From here, players did offer a 12-team playoff format and MLB did propose a universal DH and drop free agent compensation. But on the biggest issues it’s been mostly baby steps on both sides.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 2, 2022
The owners want a 14-team playoff, and that figures to wind up being the structure moving forward. The players, however, will not agree to a 14-team playoff without some kind of give-back elsewhere. (MLB has used a 10-team playoff format for the last decade with the exception of the shortened 2020 season.) As for the universal DH, it's almost certain to be a permanent presence in MLB moving forward.
None of this means the two sides are particularly close to a deal, but the amount of theoretical common ground is increasing, albeit in a piecemeal fashion. The union still wants to increase the minimum salary much more than the owners do and to reduce the timeline for arbitration eligibility from three years to two years, where it was for many years. As well, players and owners remain far apart on what the luxury-tax threshold on top payrolls should be.
Given that the average player salary has declined in the face of ever-soaring league revenues and franchise valuations, the union wants to alter the economic structure of the game by getting young players paid more and paid sooner. Those young players have become a stronger presence in the contemporary game in large measure because they're so grossly underpaid in their pre-arbitration and pre-free agency years. Owners, however, are largely content with the status quo, which explains why they've shown little willingness to address those core matters.
Whatever the near future holds, the clock continues to tick, as spring training games are on the docket for Feb. 26. As our Mike Axisa recently wrote, de facto deadlines for a normal 2022 spring training and regular season are fast approaching. At this point, a delayed start to spring training seems highly likely.
The two sides are likely to address core economic issues again either late this week or early next week.