MLB’s Latest Proposal Moves Financial Needle in Key Areas, Players Reportedly ‘Underwhelmed’

Saturday’s meeting between representatives from Major League Baseball and the players association lasted only an hour and left players “underwhelmed,” but the league did take baby steps forward. This doesn’t really mean much because, despite Rob Manfred’s optimism, the start of spring training was almost certainly being pushed back no matter what happened today. While an agreement early next week would limit the damage to the exhibition slate, the players are going to have to counter quickly.

One of the biggest gaps to his point appears to be in the bonus pool for pre-arbitration players, with the union coming down from $105 million to $100 million and the league moving up to just $15 million from $5 million at the start. However, there have been developments when it comes to minimum salaries.

The players have asked to have the floor raised from $570,500 to $750K, but owners came back with a flat $610K figure that teams could not increase even if they wanted. Per Evan Drellich of The Athletic, the league made two separate proposals for minimums: 1) a flat $630K that teams could increase of their own volition, or 2) a sliding scale of $615-$725K. The high end of the minimum for pre-arb players had been $700K, so this is a small shift in the right direction.

The league also increased its offer on the competitive balance tax threshold, though not enough to get anyone excited. After five years of increasing it by $2 million each year to reach the 2021 level of $210 million, the initial offer was to set it at $214 million for three years, then go to $216 in 2025 and $220 million in 2026. Saturday saw the owners move that scale up by going to $216 million after two years, then $218 million and $222 in the last two years of the CBA.

There is, however, a poison pill in that the penalties for exceeding those thresholds would be harsher than they were in the old agreement. So not only would the luxury tax be a bigger burden in and of itself, but raising the ceiling by less than 1% each year means inflation outpaced the mark and suppresses salaries to a greater degree than before.

There were some other new wrinkles in this latest proposal that seem to favor the players as well, like offering two draft picks to a team if a top prospect stays on the roster and wins multiple awards. The league had previously capped it at one pick, so this does provide additional incentive to avoid manipulating service time. Had this been in effect in 2015, the Cubs could have said Kris Bryant’s glove was perfectly fine and they’d have gotten an extra pick for both his Rookie of the Year and MVP nods.

Must be how the Cardinals feel when they get compensation picks every year for being a small-market team.

The league’s proposal would also limit minor-league options to five instances per season, which is a nice addition in a window dressing sense. Another interesting facet is the re-implementation of the draft-and-follow process that allows a team to select a player and then sign him after he attends junior college for a year. This could be good for some raw prep players who aren’t ready for the pros and don’t need three years of college development.

The prevailing sense is that the union was neither impressed nor insulted by the offer, with some believing it wasn’t as bad as what they’d expected. While that can be seen as damning with faint praise, we’ve reached the point where simply not hating the proposal is a good thing. It also feels as though the owners are probably willing to move much further on several of these topics and are choosing instead to play out the string in very small increments.

I have to think the players will stand firm on most of the key points, perhaps giving slightly, with a quick counter by early next week. There’s no time to save initial report dates, but an agreement by the end of next week could at least keep things very close to remaining on track for the games that matter.

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