Thursday, June 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Here are the big issues in baseball's labor talks

Within the past week, three respected national baseball writers have reported the following about the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement and the possibility that players are locked out later this week.

Ken Rosenthal, Fox: The 30 club owners in Major League Baseball are prepared to lock out the MLB Players Association if significant progress isn't made, and the players are willing to be locked out for the good of the union.

Jayson Stark, ESPN: Enough progress has been made that pathways exist for the owners and players to avoid a lockout and extend their labor harmony to 22 years.

Nick Cafardo, The Boston Globe: Even if an agreement isn't ratified by Thursday, when the CBA expires, the owners might be willing to continue to negotiate with the players without locking them out and interrupting offseason business.

Only those doing the heavy lifting, namely MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark, really know what the sides are thinking or how close they are to agreeing to a new CBA. The current agreement expires Thursday.

At the center of the extended talks, reportedly, are free agent compensation and an international/worldwide draft.

The players don't want either. The owners have always insisted upon compensation, but multiple clubs, including the Texas Rangers, don't care for a draft for players who don't fall into the jurisdiction of the annual first-year player draft.

Manfred, though, wants an international draft, and he could very well end up getting his way this week.

Here's a look at some of the pending issues:

Free-agent compensation

The mother of all labor issues is how teams are compensated when they lose a big-time player to free agency. The current system, making qualifying offers to players and receiving a first-round pick if they leave, has proved to be like an anchor to some players.

Just ask Ian Desmond, who last year turned down a qualifying offer in hopes of bagging a rich deal but had to settle for a one-year, $8 million deal with the Rangers after spring training started as teams didn't want to part with their first-round pick for a player coming off a down season.

Desmond isn't alone. Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew have been left on the vine all offseason — or longer — because teams coveted their draft picks.

Changes were anticipated heading into the bargaining process. One report suggested that owners might be willing to trade away compensation for an international draft.

International draft

This is Manfred's baby, which he believes will further even the playing field for small-market teams that don't put resources into, primarily, Latin America.

The players, though, oppose anything that restricts the money future union members can earn. Big-market teams that flourish internationally, as the Rangers do, don't want to lose any advantage they have.

Another argument from the union is that there are too many differences from country to county to make an international draft fair for players. For instance, the system in place for Dominican Republic amateurs is different from the system for Korean amateurs.

The current CBA put spending caps in place internationally, and the same teams that don't like the international draft didn't like the caps. Those caps came with penalties for overspending, but teams often ignored them.

Those cavalier clubs have helped strengthen Manfred's case.

Roster size

Multiple reports suggest that active rosters will increase from 25 players to 26 in exchange for limiting roster sizes in September, when for decades teams have been able to activate anyone on the 40-man roster.

It creates an entirely different set of rules for the money month of the season, which is an issue for teams, and also gives players service time they ordinarily wouldn't receive, which the union likes.

The September rules, though, need to change, and adding a 26th player from opening day would help ease the union's service-time concerns. That final spot could turn over regularly, giving players that service time they wouldn't be getting in September.

Length of season

Talk of a 154-game season is just talk, or maybe a negotiating position from the players union. Teams aren't willing to lose revenue from trimming even a mere three home games, and players aren't going to cut their salaries to a 154-game pay scale.

However, a compromise could be the addition of a handful of off days and more day games on getaway day to avoid arriving to the next city at 5 a.m. or later and playing a game that night.

More rest would help players avoid injuries and teams protect their investments in those players.

Revenue sharing

After 20 years of revenue sharing, baseball is more competitive. That was the goal of big-market teams spreading their wealth to small-market teams.

But the big-market teams and players association aren't entirely pleased. They're okay with sharing revenue as long as the small-market teams are investing the funds they receive into roster upgrades. That's not happening across the board, though.

Some teams are just pocketing the money and continuing to operate without dipping into free agency. That's affecting some players' wallets and ticking off some big-market teams that feel they are helping run these small-market teams.

Expect changes here.

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