Previewing the CBA Deadline

MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is set to expire on December 1st. Unfortunately with all of the disagreements over issues including rule changes, profit sharing, and minor league living conditions, it’s possible that we could see a work stoppage similar to the one we saw in 1994.

The MLBPA’s website says the purpose of the CBA “is to set forth their agreement on certain terms and conditions of employment of all Major League Baseball Players for the duration of this Agreement.” This is vital to the league and many other major U.S. sports because it sets fair and ethical rules for players and teams to abide by. However, owners have historically dominated negotiations and kept the lion’s share of profits. In recent years, players have been much more open to speaking out, and there has been significant pushback in the media. If there aren’t substantial changes made by December, it would not be surprising to see another lockout or strike.

If there is no new CBA by December 1st, MLB rules say major league play will stop until it is renewed and there will be no moves allowed by any club. This will play a significant role this offseason regardless of whether the CBA gets renewed or not, as the potential scare of a delayed CBA may force teams to rush moves or wait longer on them.

This could mean an eventful few weeks before December 1st. On the one hand, we could see massive overpaying of players from clubs to ensure they have them on their team before the expiration date. On the other hand, we could see uncharacteristic low-ball signings by players to ensure they are getting paid regardless of the outcome of the CBA. Teams could exploit the scare and potentially make sneaky signings on otherwise big-time free agents. This reminds me of deals like those signed by Scott Kingery, Hunter Dozier, and Evan White. They signed relatively cheap, long-term deals before they even reached the majors. The clubs weren’t risking too much on the contract while the players were embracing the financial security, just like free agents might with such an uncertain CBA situation.

A significant issue in the current CBA that is looking to be fixed is the ethical problems in the minor leagues. The main problem that all minor leaguers have to face is their low compensation, especially considering the costs of the job. Unfortunately, minor leaguers don’t have a union represented in the CBA. Therefore the minor league players look to their major league counterparts to express their concerns in the new CBA.

Jacob Condra-Bogan, a former minor league pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, told the Washington Post, “When I retired, I was one of the best 500 relief pitchers in the world. And I can’t even get minimum wage.” He went on to say, “This is an entertainment industry where there is money. It’s not something small. I’m one of the best human beings in the world at what I do, and I can’t make a living off it.” According to Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, most minor leaguers are paid around $8,000 to $14,000 annually.

Another former minor leaguer, Dirk Hayhurst, wrote an article for Bleacher Report called “An Inside Look into the Harsh Conditions of Minor League Baseball.” In it he said, “I lived entirely off of peanut butter and jelly simply because it wouldn’t spoil, and it’s what I could afford.” He also claimed, “In spring training, you were given only $120 per week in meal money, no paycheck. That $120 was gone in three nights at a sit-down restaurant — or you could stretch it by eating fatty fast food all week. Ironic, since there are rules about proper diet and being in shape; they go out the window when you’re barely paid enough to eat.”

Here is a picture of retired major leaguer ​​Tom Koehler’s first minor league apartment, per his Twitter account.

Seeing as we are less than a month away from the expiration of the CBA, new proposals are being floated to help fix this problem.

In a statement released by the league, they said, “MLB is engaged in a multi-year effort to modernize the minor league system and better assist players as they pursue their dreams of playing in the Major Leagues. In 2021, we increased the salaries for minor league players by 38-72%, depending on level, and significantly reduced travel requirements during the season. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of improvements to minor league ballparks around the country are already underway, including substantial renovations to player-facing facilities like locker rooms and training rooms.”

In addition, there are a few more major controversial issues that are being discussed in the CBA. The first of these are rookie contracts. As players get to the majors, they are typically subject to team control for six seasons (three on a team controlled deal and three salary-arbitration eligible). The lowest base salary for the first year is $660,000. Players are currently upset that their club pretty much has complete control over the pay of their first six years in the majors.

The minor leagues make this a big problem for baseball players. A player is often entering their prime as they get called up to the majors, and a club can pay the player virtually nothing to play some of their best six years of baseball. This is a frustrating discount compared to the labor setup for some other sports leagues.

Another issue with the CBA is playoff profit sharing. Players get a share of the gate fees in the playoffs, but they feel they aren’t getting a fair cut of the massive television contracts. Players are very aware that owners makes significantly more money from TV deals than stadium tickets, and they feel they should be let into those profits.

The Athletic also reports that one of the league’s proposals includes a lower luxury tax and a higher salary floor.

A work stoppage is becoming increasingly more likely as we get closer to the December 1st deadline. According to Ronald Blum of the Associated Press, “Negotiations have been taking place since last spring, and each side thinks the other has not made proposals that will lead toward an agreement replacing the five-year contract that expires at 11:59 p.m. EST on Dec. 1.”

As of now, we are seeing similar trends to the months before the 1994-95 strikes with constant outcry by players. Even some of those who don’t typically engage in controversy have voiced their opinion on this topic. According to ESPN in February, “Trout said Monday that he speaks with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark ‘probably once a day’ as the union and MLB approach a critical juncture regarding negotiations for a new CBA.”

Players and owners will do everything they can to avoid a stoppage, but there are certain hills each side is willing to die on. Rob Manfred has mentioned that his first priority is to prevent a lockout. Still, even without a strike, the possibility of one may force teams and players to make impulsive contract decisions. Stay tuned, because even with the World Series over, there will be plenty of fireworks going off in the baseball world.

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