Crunch time in CBA negotiations

November 23rd, 2016

Major League Baseball labor negotiations historically have had a unique dynamic. No agreement between the Players Association and the owners has been easy. None of them. Don't be fooled by the lack of rhetoric.
Not even the two most recent Collective Bargaining Agreements -- reached quietly in 2003 and '07 -- were done without some tense days and nights.
That's especially true in these final days when the remaining issues are the difficult ones. The current CBA expires on Dec. 1, and no new deal has been reached.
Among the final sticking points:
• Draft-pick compensation tied to free agents
• A proposed international draft
• Competitive-balance tax
Every other issue, from roster size to days off, are things both sides believe can be productively hammered out.
So where are we?
Will the owners consider locking the players out if no agreement is reached? MLB Network contributor Ken Rosenthal reported on Tuesday that it has been discussed. If that happens, it would bring baseball's offseason to a halt.
At a time when the sport has never been healthier, are these issues worth a work stoppage?
That's what these final days of negotiations are about. These last few days will be each side testing the other and figuring out what can be achieved.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has consistently said he's optimistic the two sides will reach an agreement by the deadline. Meanwhile, Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, hasn't made any public comments in a while.
Neither man has publicly discussed any of the issues.
Here's where we stand. The owners strongly favor an international draft, and instituting one would bring some order to the often chaotic process of clubs acquiring players from outside of the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
Players oppose an international draft, in part because foreign-born players have less leverage. For instance, American high school seniors and college juniors can play college ball if no deal is reached after they've been drafted. Foreign-born players have fewer, if any, comparable options.
Owners offered to drop Draft-pick compensation from free agency if the players would go for an international draft, according to Rosenthal. Players declined, feeling they would be giving up something that impacts a considerably smaller percentage of players for one that would affect many more.
(Latino and Asian players made up 30.2 percent of Major League Opening Day rosters, according to the University of Central Florida's 2016 Racial and Gender Report Card.)
Under the current CBA, teams are assigned bonus pools for international spending. If they exceed their bonus pool, clubs are assessed a 100 percent tax and then are capped on how much they can spend on any one international free agent the following offseason, essentially taking them out of the bidding for the top names. Neither side is particularly happy with that arrangement.
Baseball's competitive-balance tax probably is not a deal-breaker. It currently requires teams that have payrolls larger than $189 million to pay a 17.5 percent luxury tax. The tax increases to 30, 40 and 50 percent for second, third and fourth times exceeding the $189 million mark.
Revenue sharing remains a contentious issue, with some large-market teams chafing at transferring money to smaller-market teams. From 2012-15, the Yankees and Red Sox contributed around $700 million to help teams at the bottom of the revenue chain compete. However, there have been concerns about how much of that money is actually going to player payroll, realizing at the same time that effective development is not inexpensive.
Other issues include strengthening the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and ratcheting up pace-of-play initiatives.
However, those are non-economic issues and generally not considered deal-breakers. In the end, this deal will come down to how far each side will push their opposing viewpoints on an international draft and Draft-pick compensation.
As tense as these final days of negotiations might be, the environment is less contentious than it used to be.
From 1972-95, baseball had eight work stoppages -- five strikes and three lockouts. And the last one, the strike that forced cancellation of the 1994 World Series and bled into the first month of the following season, was a turning point for both sides.
Players and owners acknowledged that damage had been done to the sport and that the two sides must stop pushing one another to the brink. That's when, in the final hours of the 2002 negotiations, a group of players led by Atlanta's Tom Glavine came to New York to take part in talks that led to a new deal.
In the 21 years since, baseball has undergone phenomenal growth, with revenues increasing from around $1.2 billion to almost $10 billion. Meanwhile, the average Major League salary has increased from $1 million to $4.4 million.
Baseball has more competitive balance than any time in its history. In short, times are good.
That does not mean labor negations are supposed to be easy, or that the issues are not important.
These last few days are always about those issues. Both sides are braced for long nights. In the end, though, there's surely a deal to be made. The cost of doing otherwise is too high.