Players and owners on Thursday will have a bargaining session for the first time since the owner lockout commenced on Dec. 2, CBS Sports HQ’s Jim Bowden confirmed. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the two sides during the Thursday session will discuss the core economic issues that present the greatest challenge when it comes to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Specifically, the league will be making a proposal that at least obliquely addresses these matters.
Evan Drellich of The Athletic adds that the negotiating session is expected to be conducted via video.
As for those core economic issues, they don’t figure to be easily resolved. Given that the average player salary has declined in the face of ever-soaring franchise values, the union wants to remake the economic structure of the game. The players’ wish list is too expansive to be addressed in a single CBA negotiation, but you should expect that their energies will be focused on getting young players paid more and paid sooner.
The clearest path would be to fight for a significant increase to the minimum salary, and at the same time, the players may angle to lower the bar for arbitration eligibility back to two years (where it was during the early existence of the process) and/or press to lower the service-time requirements for free agency. Discussions will be taking place on how to address the tanking phenomenon and the status of the luxury tax on payrolls moving forward — i.e., whether the tax threshold will be raised and by how much. The owners are largely pleased with the status quo and will be resistant to any changes that shift revenues to the labor side.
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What will be telling is whether MLB‘s proposal in any way embodies movement on these issues. A recent strategy of the owners has been to make proposals that differ from prior offers only in superficial terms. Suffice it to say, this is not something that moves both sides any closer to an agreement. That the owners have waited this long to present their latest proposal suggests that some kind of stalling strategy on the part of management may be in place. That’s curious given that commissioner Rob Manfred in his open letter explaining the rationale for the owner-imposed work stoppage wrote, “We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time.” Meantime, the owners have waited some six weeks to make this forthcoming proposal.
Whatever the motivations, the clock continues to tick, as spring training games are on the docket for Feb. 26. Players would require a ramp-up period of at least two weeks, which means roughly a month to forge a new CBA.