Until this week, it appeared that there was no possible way spring training would start on time Feb. 16. And it was certainly highly questionable if the regular season would open as scheduled March 31.
The way things stand now, spring training and/or the season could still very well be delayed. However, there is at least a glimmer of hope that maybe Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association can come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement that would end the lockout.
MLB locked the players out Dec. 2 just hours after the previous CBA expired.
There were then no negotiations until the two sides met Monday and Tuesday both in person in New York and by videoconference. While there is no indication the sides are close to a deal, it should be a considered a positive that negotiations were finally held.
The most encouraging aspect of the talks is both sides appear to at least have the framework of a potential deal. That didn’t seem to be the case as recently as Monday morning when the sides seemed to be comparing apples to oranges on some of the major issues.
First, the players agreed to keep the threshold for players to become free agents at six full years of major league service time, which has been in place since the advent of free agency in 1976. The players had wanted the threshold lowered.
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The owners then agreed not to raise the service time threshold for players to become eligible from arbitration to three full years of service time. Currently, the top 22% of players with more than two years but less than three years of service time can go to an arbitration hearing.
The MLBPA is asking that all players with a minimum of two full years be arbitration eligible, reverting to the system that was in place from 1974-86.
With those two hurdles out of the way, there is now at least a pathway to more fruitful negotiations.
The owners have agreed to the union’s request to send additional money to pre-arbitration-eligible players from MLB’s central revenue.
The owners have offered $10 million annually and the players are asking for $105 million annually. Granted, it’s a large gap but at least it’s a starting point.
MLB also increased its offer to increase the minimum salary for players with less than one year of service time from $600,000 to $615,000, which would represent a raise over the current $570,500 minimum. The players want a $775,000 minimum.
It is not unreasonable to think the sides can bridge the $160,000 gap.
There are other issues that still must be hammered out, though.
The players want the owners to cut revenue sharing among the clubs by $30 million annually. The MLBPA also would like new rules concerning service time manipulation and “tanking,” a phrase used when teams tear down and begin rebuilding.
The owners don’t seem too keen on making any changes in those areas.
Teams have proposed that any player called up in August or September who remained eligible for Rookie of the Year the following season – less than 130 plate appearances for hitters, less than 50 innings for pitchers — would count toward extra amateur draft picks under their plan aimed to address service time.
Whether both sides can compromise on all these issues in time for spring training to begin remains to be seen. However, a framework for a deal is at least developing, which is more than could be said when the week began.