JUPITER, Fla. — Whatever slight breeze of encouragement the players’ union felt as they left Roger Dean Stadium on Friday and attempted to make a proposal to the owners on Saturday, completely evaporated that evening, snuffing the talks and posing the opening day in deeper doubt. and leaving it up to players to leave after a week of meetings.
Mets starter Max Scherzer, a Major League Baseball Players’ Association board member, exited the Cardinals’ spring training offices and, before reaching his vehicle, walked directly toward a crowd of fans gathered by a fence. Saturday would have been the first Grapefruit League games and instead of seeing players in the stands, fans gathered on the street for a glimpse of them in a parking lot. Scherzer began signing autographs from fan after fan when one asked how the negotiations had gone.
“Not good,” Scherzer said bluntly.
He politely declined to dwell on the matter with reporters.
Not good was an understatement.
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The union was furious after the owners presented a counter-proposal on Saturday afternoon, according to a source. A source said the union reps’ departure was a possibility — so that MLB’s Monday deadline would arrive for a full regular season before meetings resume. The union decided instead to return to the stadium on Sunday and meet for the seventh straight year.
With spring training already delayed by the owner lockout and 10 days of canceled exhibition games and the second-longest work stoppage in baseball history, MLB had announced Monday as the deadline for an agreement before it begins canceling regular-season games. That would reduce player salaries.
At the heart of the frustration and upset conclusion to Saturday’s day were changes players continued to propose to items owners said weren’t starters.
They seem willing to not start the season to get it.
A priority for the union has been achieving higher salaries for players earlier in their careers, and a constant element of their efforts has been the expansion of arbitration beyond the current model. The union’s proposal was split down to 75% by all players with at least two years’ service at 80% of the class and on Saturday they lowered the requirement to 35%, according to a source familiar with the proposal. It was a drop well below the median, and the union hasn’t made up for it by raising the proposed minimum salary or the size of a bonus pool for players before they reach arbitration.
The owners have steadfastly stated that they will not break away from the current ‘Super 2’ definition – the top 22% in class. And that is that. The commissioner doesn’t think he can get the support of 23 owners needed to ratify a collective agreement if it includes an amendment to the 22%.
The owners also resist any suggestion to change or reduce the revenue share, even the players’ complicated proposal that rewards small market teams for increasing their revenue.
The owners have shielded these issues from being altered or discussed, a source described.
This inflexibility constrains negotiations on related issues, as the owners’ current stance, no combination of an adjusted minimum salary, compensation pool, or allowance for the owners’ apparent goal — to make the luxury tax more rigid and harsher penalties — will be enough to move from the 22% or the status quo for revenue share.
However, Saturday showed how connecting elements of the proposal – give a little to get a little – can move the sides towards an agreement.
And throw them apart in anger.
The owners and union both expressed enthusiasm for a possible settlement on a lottery draft Friday night and privately hoped to finalize it on Saturday so they could turn to other issues. The first sign of trouble on Saturday was when that didn’t happen. With the union proposing Friday night, owners returned Saturday by handcuffing the draft lottery to extended playoffs. The owners want 14 teams in the postseason and the union has agreed to 12. The owners have complied with the union’s request that the first six picks of the design be decided by lottery. But MLB added a significant caveat: A settlement on baseball’s first draft lottery will only come about if 16 teams were eligible, since the playoff field was 14.
In order to get, one side had to give in – on that issue.
The union has also been looking for a way to reduce tenure manipulation and incentivize teams to bring in the best young players when they are ready, rather than an extra week or two for an extra year of scrutiny in the to hide minors. Owners approached the union on Saturday by agreeing that the seniority of players who place first and second in both leagues in Rookie of the Year voting will be rounded up to one year.
The owners also agreed to a limit on the number of times a single player can be selected for the minors in a single season.
Included in the same proposal, described by sources on both sides, was a change in how rule changes are handled on the pitch. The existing agreement requires the commissioner to negotiate rule changes with the union, but gives him the right to push through a change one year after the proposal. A tagalong in the Saturday owners’ bid was the creation of a committee with six representatives from MLB, two from the union and an umpire. This committee would review rule changes and expedite the process, potentially as fast as 45 days.
A side has only given when it comes – on this issue.
The union started the day with a Zoom meeting attended by all 30 player representatives representing each club and the eight members of the board. They went through a lengthy proposal – one that encapsulated many of their goals into one comprehensive document – before presenting it to the owners. There were elements of the proposal that several player representatives were not enthusiastic about, a source described. The dramatic drop in Super 2 demand was part of this, as was a cut in the union’s proposed competitive balance sheet tax threshold, or luxury tax. The revised proposal lowered the threshold by $2 million in years 2, 3 and 4 of the five-year agreement.
They have revised downward the financial penalties for spending beyond the CBT, but they remained more than twice as harsh as before. In a final sign of the day wasted, the owners increased their CBT threshold by $1 million in the second year.
The owners saw the suggestion as lousy and responded in kind, a league spokesman said.
They believed they were getting little, so they gave less on one of the biggest problems.
It was responses like these that irritated players, solidified how distant the two sides remain and sparked conversations about whether another day or two would bring enough movement to matter before the owner’s deadline on Monday play. Getting little or giving little is no longer enough when a lot has to be accomplished in 48 hours.