MLB's request for federal mediator declined by MLBPA

February 5th, 2022

The Major League Baseball Players Association declined MLB’s request for federal mediators to assist in the labor negotiations between the two sides.

MLB made its request Thursday, seeking assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help move the negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement.

An MLB spokesperson responded to the union’s decision Friday afternoon.

“Our goal is to have players on the field and fans in the ballparks for Spring Training and Opening Day,” the league spokesperson said. “With camps scheduled to open in less than two weeks, it is time to get immediate assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help us work through our differences and break the deadlock. It is clear the most productive path forward would be the involvement of an impartial third party to help bridge gaps and facilitate an agreement.

“It is hard to understand why a party that wants to make an agreement would reject mediation from the federal agency specifically tasked with resolving these disputes, including many successes in professional sports. MLB remains committed to offering solutions at the table and reaching a fair agreement for both sides.”

The MLBPA announced its decision in a statement released Friday.

“Two months after implementing their lockout, and just two days after committing to Players that a counterproposal would be made, the owners refused to make a counter, and instead requested mediation,” the MLBPA said. “After consultation with our Executive Board, and taking into account a variety of factors, we have declined this request. The clearest path to a fair and timely agreement is to get back to the table. Players stand ready to negotiate.”

According to one MLB official, the league sees mediation as the most productive path toward reaching an agreement that would avoid any potential delay of the season. The league’s belief is that a neutral mediator will help expedite the negotiation process.

Federal mediators have helped resolve other professional sports negotiations during the past dozen years, stepping in to assist the National Football League, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer, among others.

MLS resolved its 2010 negotiations with the players union without a work stoppage thanks to the help of federal mediators. Additionally, mediation helped resolve the NHL’s lockout in 2012-13, the NFL’s lockout of its officials in 2012, and a similar MLS lockout of officials in 2014. The MLBPA is not required to accept mediation.

As cited in a 2014 article in Harvard Law School’s Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law, the American Bar Association said mediations end in agreement 70-80 percent of the time.

Mark Grabowski, who authored the article, wrote at the time, “Regardless of the outcome, mediation is arguably never a waste of time. By going through the process, if properly conducted, key issues could be identified that, in turn, could eventually lead to a resolution. The communication and open discussion of issues may also lead to a better working relationship.”

MLB and the MLBPA met Tuesday to discuss core economic issues, though the union’s response to the league’s most recent proposals seemed to quell any momentum that had gained steam last week.

Per sources, the MLBPA offered to reduce its figure for a pre-arbitration bonus pool from $105 million to $100 million. The league had offered to create a $10 million pool -- one which would reward the top performers among the group of pre-arbitration players -- funded by central baseball, using the framework that had initially been presented by the MLBPA.

MLB had presented the pre-arbitration bonus pool proposal last week in an effort to create a bridge toward a deal, but Tuesday’s response resulted in minimal movement on the issue.

Under the league’s proposal, National League Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes would have earned $2.34 million last season instead of $608,000, while American League MVP runner-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would have seen an increase from $635,400 to $1.843 million. Other pre-arbitration players including Austin Riley, Jonathan India and Randy Arozarena would have seen their salaries jump more than 200 percent in 2021.

According to sources, the MLBPA said Tuesday it was open to the league’s proposal to reward teams with Draft picks for keeping top prospects on the roster for the entire season, part of MLB’s plan to prevent alleged service-time manipulation.

But while the union was receptive to the league’s idea, the MLBPA also wants to incorporate its own plan to combat the issue: a system that would reward pre-arbitration players with a full year of service time based on their finish in awards voting and placement on WAR leaderboards for their respective positions.

Per sources, the MLBPA remains stuck on a pair of key issues: Super Two eligibility -- the union wants all players with two years of service time to be eligible for arbitration, not just the 22 percent with the most service time, as it currently stands -- and a reduction in revenue sharing. MLB has been steadfast from the beginning of negotiations that these two issues are non-starters for the league’s owners.

Other issues still in play are the league’s minimum salary and the competitive balance tax threshold, neither of which was discussed during Tuesday’s meeting.

Among MLB’s prior proposals, the league has offered to eliminate Draft-pick compensation for free agents, a system that has been in existence since 1976.

In its most recent proposals, MLB also addressed the players’ desire to incentivize competition with an NBA-style Draft lottery, the expansion of the postseason and the addition of a universal designated hitter.

MLB’s expanded postseason plan would also increase players’ postseason shares by approximately $20 million, as 60 percent of gate receipts from the new first round of the postseason would be added to the players’ postseason shares. A Draft lottery for the top three selections in the Draft would also serve as a deterrent for teams to tank, with teams ineligible to receive lottery selections in three consecutive years.