JUPITER, Fla. — Whatever slight breeze of encouragement the players’ union felt leaving Roger Dean Stadium on Friday and tried to ride into a proposal to owners Saturday vaporized completely that evening, knocking the wind out of talks, putting opening day into deeper doubt, and leaving the players to consider walking away after a week of meetings.
Mets starter Max Scherzer, a member of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association’s executive board, left the Cardinals’ spring training offices and, before reaching his vehicle, walked directly to a throng of fans who had gathered at a fence. Saturday would have been the first games of Grapefruit League play and instead of seeing players at the stands, fans gathered on the street for glimpses of them in a parking lot. Scherzer began signing autographs for fan after fan as one asked how the negotiations went.
“Not good,” Scherzer said, bluntly.
He politely declined to elaborate with reporters.
Not good was an understatement.
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The union was furious, according to a source, after the owners presented a counterproposal Saturday afternoon. A source said the union representatives leaving was a possibility — allowing MLB’s Monday deadline for a full regular season to arrive before meetings resumed. The union decided instead to return to the ballpark Sunday and meet for a seventh consecutive day.
With spring training already delayed by the owners’ lockout and 10 days of exhibition games canceled and the second-longest work stoppage in baseball history, MLB had advertised Monday as the deadline for an agreement before it starts cancelling regular-season games. That would reduce player salaries.
At the core of Saturday’s frustration and angry conclusion to the day were changes the players continue to propose to the elements the owners have said are non-starters.
They appear willing to non-start the season to preserve them.
A priority for the union has been gaining higher salaries for players earlier in their careers, and one constant element of their attempts has been expanding eligibility beyond the current model. The union’s proposal has been cleaved down from all players with at least two years of service time to 80% of the class to 75%, and then, on Saturday, they slashed the ask down to 35%, according to a source familiar with the proposal. It was a drop to well beneath the midpoint, and the union did not compensate by adjusting upward the proposed minimum salary or the size a bonus pool for players before they reach arbitration.
The owners have steadfastly said they will not budge from the current “Super 2” definition — the top 22% of the class. And that’s that. The commissioner does not believe he can get the support of 23 owners needed to ratify a Collective Bargaining Agreement if it includes a change to the 22%.
The owners, likewise, resist any proposal to change or reduce revenue sharing, even the intricate proposal by the players that rewards small-market teams as they increase revenue.
The owners have siloed those issues off, not to be changed or discussed, a source described.
That inflexibility limits the negotiations on related issues because the owners current stance is no combination of adjusted minimum salary, balance pool, or allowance on the owners’ obvious goal — to add rigidity and harsher penalties to the luxury tax—– will be enough to move from the 22% or status quo for revenue sharing.
Yet, Saturday illustrated how linking elements of a proposal — give a little to get a little — can inch the sides toward agreement.
And throw them apart in aggravation.
The owners and union both expressed enthusiasm for a possible agreement on a draft lottery Friday night and privately hoped to finalize it Saturday so they could move onto other issues. The first sign of trouble Saturday was when that didn’t happen. With the union’s proposal in hand Friday night, the owners returned Saturday by handcuffing the draft lottery to expanded playoffs. The owners want 14 teams in the postseason, and the union has agreed to 12. The owners met the union’s wish to have the first six picks of the draft decided by a lottery. But MLB added a significant caveat: An agreement on baseball’s first draft lottery only happens if 16 teams were eligible for it because the playoff field was 14.
To get, a side had to give — on this issue.
The union has also sought a way to reduce service time manipulation and incentivize teams for bringing the best young players up when ready, not stashing them in the minors an extra week or two for the benefit of an extra year of control. The owners moved toward the union Saturday by agreeing that players who finish first and second in both leagues’ Rookie of the Year voting would have their service time rounded up to a year.
The owners also agreed to a limit on the number of times an individual player can be optioned to the minors in a single season.
Wrapped up in that same proposal, sources on both sides described, was an alternation to how on-field rule changes are handled. The existing agreement requires the commissioner to negotiate rule changes with the union, but gives him the right to impose a change a year after it’s proposed. A tagalong in Saturday’s offer from the owners was the creation of a committee featuring six reps from MLB, two from the union, and one umpire. That committee would consider rule changes and expedite the process, possibly as swiftly as 45 days.
A side gave only when it gets — on that issue.
The union began the day with a Zoom meeting that involved all 30 player reps, representing each club, and the eight members of the executive board. They went through an expansive proposal — one that brought many of their goals all into one comprehensive document — before presenting it to the owners. There were elements of the proposal that did not thrill several player reps, a source described. The dramatic drop in the Super 2 request was part of it, as was a trimming of the union’s proposed Competitive Balance tax threshold, or luxury tax. The revised proposal cut the threshold by $2 million in years 2, 3, and 4 of the five-year agreement.
They did adjust downward the financial penalties for spending beyond the CBT, but they remained more than twice as punitive as before. As the final punctuation on the misspent day, the owners upped their CBT threshold by $1 million, in Year 2.
The owners saw that proposal as lousy and responded in kind, a league spokesman said.
They believed they got little, so they gave less — on one of the biggest issues.
It was responses like that one that irritated the players, cemented how far apart the two sides remain, and prompted conversation on whether another day or two would yield enough movement to matter before the owner’s Monday deadline. Getting a little or giving a little is no longer enough when there is a lot to overcome in 48 hours.