With each passing week it feels like the chances of a major labor fight are increasing. League revenues are at an all-time high but team payrolls are coming down -- a whopping 18 teams reduced payroll from 2017 to 2018 --. It was only the fourth time in the last 50 years the average salary dropped.
Teams are spending less money on free agents and players in general, so, on Saturday morning, Phillies right-hander Jake Arrieta warned young players to pay attention to what's happening in the game, because they could be the next in line to feel the squeeze if changes are not made.
Arrieta fell victim to the frigid free agent market last offseason. He entered free agency as one of the top pitchers on the market ---- but had to settle for a three-year contract worth $75 million guaranteed. In previous offseasons, a pitcher with Arrieta's track record would've received a nine-figure contract. No doubt about it.
Nationals closer Sean Doolittle has also been outspoken about baseball's current economic situation, one in which a larger piece of the revenue pie is going to ownership, and young players (especially minor-leaguers) are being systematically underpaid.
MLB has friends in high places, so it passed.. The shamefully named "Save America's Pastime Act" essentially says minor-leaguers are seasonal workers, similar to extra cashiers at department stores during the holidays, and that tracking hours would be impossible. That is silly at best and an outright lie at worst, but
This much is clear: MLB players receive a smaller percentage of league revenue now than they did in previous years. Approximately 40.1 percent of league revenues were spent on player payroll in 2018. It was 43.3 percent five years ago and 48.9 percent 15 years ago. The players are upset, understandably. They generate the revenue -- no one goes to the ballpark to watch managers or ownership -- but owners are taking a bigger piece of the pie.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021. There are three seasons and two offseasons to go between now and then, so a lot can (and will) change. MLB's owners have no reason to increase spending, however. They are operating within the rules. When the time comes for a new CBA, expect MLB to fight for more revenue, even if it leads to a work stoppage.