There’s a lot to be learned about the state of the game of baseball over the next few weeks. Major League Baseball, to be more specific. Of course, the game is under a club ownership imposed player lockout, which has frozen the free agency hot stove and prohibits players and teams from interacting in any capacity.
According to a report on Tuesday, MLB and the MLBPA will resume preliminary discussions on a new collective bargaining agreement later this week and try to get the offseason restarted without missing much or any of spring training.
While the major holdup is in core economics. ESPN’s Jesse Rogers explained that well here.
Players feel, with the emergence of analytics within front offices, that fewer and fewer second- and third-tier players are getting paid when they finally become free agents after six years of major league service time, which is often when a player turns 30 or very close to it. In general, players would like to be paid more at younger ages because that’s when they are in their prime.
Beyond the economics of the game, which we’ll get back to, there are changes to the game on the horizon. Over the weekend, MLB insider and USA Today scribe Bob Nightengale made a list of some of the anticipated changes that could be coming once a new deal gets agreed upon.
- The universal DH will return
- A pitch clock will make its way from the minor leagues and will be incorporated in 2021
- Playoffs will expand from “10 teams to at least 12 teams, but likely 14 teams”
- Advertising to be featured on uniforms
- The elimination of the 7 inning doubleheader
- The extra inning “ghost runner” or Manfred rule will start in the 12th inning of a game, not the 10th
- Roster construction restrictions will be applied with a team carrying a max of 13, that number drops to 12 in 2023 and beyond
In terms of money, payroll, and free agency:
- MLB’s minimum player salary will start at a minimum of $700,000
- The luxury tax will jump to $230 million and increase each season
- Players can become free agents after 6 years of service time or after they turn 29½, whichever comes first
- Players can become eligible for salary arbitration earlier than 3 years or Super 2 status if they “make the All-Star team, reach a certain WAR score, or attain other incentives”
- “Teams cannot receive a top 5 draft pick three consecutive years no matter how awful the team performs”
Back to Core Economics
At its core, the players union is taking a stand against wealthy team owners who are skipping out on paying the older, middle-class of baseball players. The top players in the sport get the overwhelming majority of a team’s salary while trying to fill out most of the rest of the active roster with cheaper, younger — pre-arbitration — players. With that in mind, the root of the core economics being discussed by the MLBPA is based around a shorter arbitration, or period under team control, for players so that they may reach free agency at a younger age.
This includes eliminating service time manipulation, which is a major problem for players. The union is also fighting to mitigate tanking in the sport and battling for the qualifying offer to be removed from free agency.
Since the lockout went into place, very little communication has happened between the two sides. At this point, it feels less and less likely an agreement happens soon enough to not affect the start of spring training. Pitchers and catchers would be set to report the week of February 14th. But tensions between MLB, the owners, and the MLBPA are far from a love fest at the moment.
Reportedly, both sides acknowledge that starting spring training on time is much less important than starting the regular season on time. And, most players and fans alike agree that spring training is already too long as it is. The longer the lockout goes, the more it may benefit the players. Anything that affects opening day would prove to be exceptionally more costly for teams than the players. But there will also come a point where fans will get uneasy toward players and owners alike if these negotiations stall and rumors spill over onto social media.