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Compromise Ideas for MLB/MLBPA – And How They Would Affect The Jays

The major negotiating issues between MLB and the MLBPA do not appear to be insurmountable.  Here are a few ideas as to how to resolve them – with their impact on the Jays.

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The ongoing negotiations (or lack thereof!) between MLB and the MLBPA seem to turn on a few key issues.  But the sides do not seem as far apart as some might suggest.  Here are a few thoughts on how the chasms might be bridged – and the potential impact on Toronto.


Issue #1 – Pre-arb salaries

Under the current CBA, players who have not yet reached arbitration can be retained by their teams at a major-league-minimum salary, which was $570,500 in 2021.  This can result in certain young players (see Guerrero Jr, Vladimir) putting up elephant-level production for peanut-level compensation.


Proposed solution:  have the top 10% (20%?) of pre-arb players, by fWAR, get a higher minimum amount (double the minimum?  triple?).  At the same time, have the mlb minimum increase by year.  So in the first year, the mlb minimum might be $570,000.  In the second year, $750,000.  And in the third year, $1 million).  This would not completely eliminate the disconnect between a Vladdy or Bo’s production and their paycheque, but it would mitigate a bit.  And the cost to the owners should not be extortionate.


Impact on the Jays:  a few extra millions to a team like Toronto with a payroll in the $170 million range should not be too heart-breaking.


Issue #2 – service time (and manipulation)

Under the current CBA, players become free agents after 6 full years of mlb service.  Team have been manipulating this by bringing players up a week or two into the season, so by the end of their sixth year they only have 5.999 years of service.  The MLBPA, not unreasonably, considers this uncool.  In addition, this six year term of servitude can be particularly harmful for players who reach The Show late, as they can be under team control well into their 30s.


Proposed solution: have players become a free agent after 5.5 years of service or age 29 on opening day, whichever comes first.  Changing from 6.0 years to 5.5 means that, to manipulate the service clock, a team would have to keep a Bryant-level talent down in the minors for roughly 3 months.  Much harder to justify than 3 weeks.  And the age 29 cutoff would help players like Aaron Judge, who would become a free agent in 2022 rather than 2023.  But, for most players, a 5.5 year cutoff would still give the team 6 full seasons of control – which is what was intended in the first place.


Impact on the Jays:  It is likely that the changes would be implemented only for new players, and that existing mlb players would remain subject to the 6.0 year rule.  But if (big if) the 5.5 rule came in immediately, it would cost the Jays a year of team control over Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Cavan Biggio, Teoscar Hernandez, and Alek Manoah.  Ouch!  And the 29-years-old rule would cost both years of Teoscar’s remaining team control, as he will be 29 years old on opening day 2022.


Issue #3 – spending of revenue sharing amounts

Under the MLB revenue sharing system, teams in large markets contribute a certain amount to a pool which is shared by teams in smaller markets.  This is designed to help those small-market franchises field more competitive teams.  The MLBPA is concerned that this money is not being spent on player salaries, but either in non-player areas (such as scouting and minor league player development) or even non-baseball areas (like new Porsches for the owners).


Proposed Solution:  two parts.  First, agree that a certain percentage of the base revenue sharing amounts (50%?) has to be spent on direct player payroll.  Second, enhance the revenue sharing scheme by implementing a second tier of revenue sharing based on a “franchise player” system.  As for example – suppose Cleveland (a small market team) designated Shane Bieber as their “franchise player”.  He agrees to sign an extension with them for 10/$250 million, but they do not have the money.  The league, through this second tier of the revenue sharing system, subsidies all or a part of this amount, allowing Cleveland to keep Bieber long-term.  A team would only be allowed to designate one such player at a time, and it would have to be a player that they have developed themselves (i.e. not a recent free agent).  This not only helps the team remain competitive, but also increases their total payroll.


Impact on the Jays:  As the Jays are not a small-market team, they would (under my suggestion) not be entitled to receive general revenue sharing or “franchise player” subsidies.  Too bad!


Issue #4 – the universal DH

Currently, AL teams use a designated hitter while NL teams do not.  Proponents of the DH (among whom this writer is not included) believe that it would benefit baseball as a whole if the DH were universal.


Proposed solution: Just do it already.  But implement the DH in 2023, not 2022, to give NL teams time to adapt.


Impact on the Jays:  In 2021, the average runs per game in the NL (with pitchers hitting) was 4.46.  In the AL, it was 4.60.  Assuming that a universal DH brings the leagues to parity, the Jays will have to somehow overcome the massive additional .14 runs per game scored by the NL teams they face in interleague play.


Issue #5 – the expanded playoffs

MLB wants to increase the number of playoff teams in each league by three, from four to seven (for this purpose, I consider the wild card loser to not be a “playoff” team).  MLBPA is offering to increase it from four to six.


Proposed solution:  Is one extra playoff team that much of a difference?  My solutions to issues 1-4 above entail the owners making concessions in favour of the players – let MLBPA give this one.


Impact on Toronto:  Many writers have made the point that the team construction required to win in the playoffs is different from the paradigm needed to win in the regular season.  This is why the correlation between regular season records and playoff wins is lower in baseball than most other major sports.  If getting into the playoffs were easier, might it behoove the Jays to focus the construction of their team more on playoff wins than on getting to the playoffs in the first place?


Issue #6 – qualifying offers

Under the current CBA, teams can extend a “qualifying offer” to a player leaving as a free agent.  If that player signs elsewhere, the acquiring team loses certain draft picks while the team that lost the player gains some compensatory picks.  The idea is twofold: to compensate teams for the loss of an important player and to discourage rich teams from signing all the free agents available.


The problem with the latter objective is that it is ineffective for the most valuable free agents.  A team paying a Marcus Semien $175 million – or a Corey Seager $325 million! – is unlikely to be deterred by the loss of draft picks worth perhaps $6 million.  Where the existing system creates problems is for the players who are marginal QO recipients, particularly those who are later in their career and would likely be signed to shorter-term contracts.  Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel rejected the QO in 2018 and were unable to land new jobs until June 2019, after the draft and after the draft pick compensation went away.


Proposed solution:  Nobody seems to object to having the team losing the free agent receive some compensation, so leave that in place.  But increase the QO amount enough (say, $25 million?  Or to the average of the top 75 players rather than the top 125?) that teams are not willing to make QO’s to the Kimbrels and Keuchels, but only to the Rays and Semiens.


Impact on the Jays:  This change would not be implemented until the 2022-23 offseason, so it would not affect the QOs the Jays gave to Semien and Ray (both of which were declined).  Going forward, it *might* impact the Jays’ QO decision on Teoscar Hernandez in the 2024-25 offseason, but it should otherwise have little effect.


Issue #7 – the salary cap (and floor)

It is pretty clear that the MLBPA will not accept a hard salary cap, so (other than for posturing purposes) that should be off the table.  Similarly, the MLB owners would only accept a salary floor if they got major concessions in exchange, which should make that a practical non-starter.


The purpose of the “salary cap” / Competitive Balance Tax (as MLB explains it!) is to maintain competitive balance.  It does not help the sport if one team consistently wins by grossly overspending the pack.  Problem is, while “grossly overspending” is a bad thing from the owners’ perspective, it is highly desirable from the players’.


Proposed solution: Keep the existing system largely in place, but tie the maximum luxury tax payroll into the actual team payrolls.  For example, the CBT threshhold could be 150% of the median (not average) team payroll from the prior year.  Or it could be a percentage of prior year spending – for example, in 2021 total team luxury tax payrolls were roughly $4.5 billion.  So the 2022 cap could be (say) 5% of $4.5 billion, or $225 million.  That way, as team spending increased over time, so would the CBT threshold.


Impact on the Jays:  Toronto should not be exceeding the CBT threshold in 2022, but with increased amounts owed to their young guns, CBT could be an issue sooner than most think.


The bottom line

Clearly, these are not the only issues on the table.  And equally clearly, the devil would be in the details (should it be the top 10% of pre-arbs who get the extra money?  20%?  12.5%?).  And even more clearly, these are not the only possible negotiated solutions.  But it does appear that the parties might be closer than many think, and that if they can stop dancing long enough to actually negotiate workable solutions might not be that hard to find.



*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.






Jim Scott

A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.