Mariners’ Paul Sewald explains players’ side to MLB lockout negotiations

Feb 8, 2022, 2:32 PM | Updated: 6:20 pm

Mariners Paul Sewald MLB lockout...

Mariners pitcher Paul Sewald pitches against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix on Sept. 3, 2021. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The MLB lockout is still ongoing, threatening the start of spring training that is scheduled for this month.

If you’re wondering what is in the way of MLB and the MLB Players Association agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement and getting back to work, Mariners pitcher Paul Sewald provided the players’ side of things Tuesday in an interview with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy.

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We’ll detail the points Sewald made on the show in this post, and you can also listen to the full interview in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

Top priorities for MLBPA

Sewald, who at 31 years old is coming off a breakout season in the Mariners bullpen and entering his sixth MLB season, listed three things that he says are the players’ priorities as they negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the league during the MLB lockout.

1. Minimum salary

(Editor’s note: Before reading the statistics relayed by Sewald, note that MLB insider Jon Heyman has tweeted that, per the Associated Press, 46% of MLB players made under $500,000 in 2021, while Travis Sawchik of The Score has reported that 63.2% of all players to step on the field in 2019, which he says is the most recent year with full-season data, had less than three years of service time.)

What Sewald said: “The most important things that we’re looking for first and foremost would be to raise the minimum wage salary for players from zero to three years of service time. The craziest facts that I’ve heard about this is that 46% of people that played last year have less than one year of service time, and 53% of players that played last year made less than $500,000.

“Now, I’m not comparing $500,000 to other jobs – I want to get that out of the way very clearly – but when you’re talking about billionaire owners and quote-unquote ‘millionaire players,’ over half the players in the league didn’t make half a million dollars. So that mantra of ‘This is billionaires vs. millionaires’ is very untrue, unfortunately. Just to put it personally, this is going to be my sixth season in the major leagues next year (and) this will be the first time that I’ve made over a million dollars… We want to make sure that we get the players that are being utilized from zero to three years a little bit extra cushion in their salary.”

2. Competitive integrity

What Sewald said: “It’s very disappointing for fans to buy season tickets, to go to games, when you know that their owner, their general manager are not putting out the best product they possibly can because they want to – we’ll use the word tank – for a couple years so they can get a top five draft pick and they can accumulate these draft picks, and they get the revenue sharing but they’re not spending it on their team and they can really make a lot of money so they could quote-unquote ‘Make a splash when they have to.’ Well, that doesn’t really always work, and next thing you know you haven’t put a decent team on the field for five, six years, and we want to fix that. We want to make sure that fans that buy season tickets know that not everyone has the ability to spend $250 million on their payroll but we definitely think that all owners can spend a little bit of money and try and make sure that they get you players that are exciting to go watch and feel like they’re trying to win games. Because as a fan, all you want is your team to win, and you want to make sure that if you’re a fan of the team that their owner also wants them to win. That seems pretty fair, in our opinion.”

3. Service time manipulation

What Sewald said: “It’s very difficult to see top players who should be in the major leagues not be simply because a team can control them for an extra year. Kris Bryant is a very good friend of mine (and) he is probably the most clear-cut example of this. He was the Minor League Player of the Year in 2014, he was ready for the major leagues… but (he didn’t start 2015 with the Chicago Cubs) because he ‘needed a little bit of seasoning.’ Three weeks seasoning and now all of a sudden he’s in the big leagues? That’s really all it took? Oh, now you get him for seven years instead of six years, (so) you get an extra year of control over a player. And it’s frustrating because the fans want to see the best players out there on the field. It shouldn’t be a service time argument. Now, in a personal situation, if we (the Mariners) had (2021 rookies) Logan Gilbert and Jarred Kelenic from opening day, are we two games better and maybe we make the playoffs? I don’t know. I don’t know that for a fact. I’m just saying if we weren’t looking at service time manipulation, could they make an impact where you finish one game back, two games back and you maybe could have made the playoffs? That’s disappointing.”

Sewald’s view on MLB lockout negotiations

MLB and team owners implemented the lockout on Dec. 2 to “jumpstart” negotiations, according to an open letter by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, on a new collective bargaining agreement as the previous one experienced after the 2021 season. Sewald shared the players association’s frustrations on how MLB has seemingly stalled negotiations by ceasing to come to the bargaining table in recent weeks while also asking for a federal mediator to serve as a third party between the two sides, which the MLBPA turned down. It’s worth noting that the lockout was enacted by MLB, not the MLBPA (the players’ equivalent of a lockout would be a strike), and the 2022 season could technically go on without a new CBA.

What Sewald said: “Since the last CBA in 2016, owners have had it pretty good. They have not spent nearly the amount of money that they were (during) previous CBAs and yet their revenues were going way up, so that’s obviously a huge concern. And so we feel like we have to get the ball rolling and get this thing going, and they’re very stagnant because why would they want anything different? Things have been great for them. So it’s been a little bit frustrating. It feels like it’s one-sided where we want to be at spring training next week and we want March 31 opening day to be here, and they don’t seem to be feeling the same sort of sense of urgency, unfortunately.

“You know, when Rob Manfred sent that letter to baseball fans on Dec. 2 that he said ‘We think the lockout will jumpstart negotiations’ and then it took 43 days for Major League Baseball and the owners to reach out to the PA, that doesn’t really seem like jumpstarting to me. That seems like stalling until players feel the panic of, ‘Hey, I’m not getting a paycheck, we need to settle for whatever we can.’

“(Regarding federal mediation) It doesn’t work. We don’t need a mediator, we just need to talk. Major League Baseball is not coming to the table to negotiate. We don’t need a third party in between us. … Just call us and tell us ‘This is our proposal, take it or leave it.’ We come back with a counter. We don’t need somebody in the middle. We don’t need a third party. … And for people who are asking, that’s your tax dollars that that we saved in case you were wondering. That was a government employee that you’re now not going to pay just to be a middleman between us and the owners.”

The sticking point of arbitration

Players generally earn the minimum salary their first three years in the big leagues, then have the option of going to arbitration with their teams to determine their salary for each of the following three years before becoming a free agent. Sewald explained why the MLBPA is looking to get players to arbitration a year earlier.

What Sewald said: “The problem is teams are underpaying players from zero to three years for their value, and then they’re underpaying players with six years and over (in free agency) because they say they’re past their prime – ‘We don’t want to pay them what they think they’re worth because they’re not going to meet the same standards they met the first six years of their career.’ So from zero to three, you’re underpaid. From six-plus, you’re underpaid because they don’t think that you’re going to perform. … Essentially you have three years of arbitration where the team’s not in charge of your salary; it’s an arbitrator. So that’s where you get the most fair value for what you represent to the team and to baseball. So the important part is getting players to salary arbitration where teams cannot manipulate how much you make. That’s why salary arbitration is so important.

“We would love to get salary arbitration back to two years. It used to be like that in the 70s and 80s. We gave that up in a few CBAs trying to move the needle in other sorts of situations, but now the teams are manipulating service time and keeping guys from getting to arbitration for so long. We feel like it’s very important that if you’re not going to pay players past their prime, we need to pay them earlier when they deserve to be paid for their value.”

Player bonus pool

One of the reported areas of negotiation the two sides have discussed during the MLB lockout is a bonus pool for players who have yet to reach arbitration eligibility. Sewald used the example of Yankees star Aaron Judge’s monster rookie season in 2017 to explain why the MLBPA and MLB are so far very far apart on a number.

What Sewald said: “We’re looking at $100 million (for a player bonus pool), Major League Baseball is looking at $10 million. Obviously, drastic difference. If you’re talking 30 major league teams (and) $100 million, that means you’re dividing to $3.3 million per team. That’s all we’re talking about – $3.3 million per team. If you can’t pay Aaron Judge, who’s the Rookie of the Year, an extra million and a half, $2 million for hitting (52) home runs, you don’t deserve to own a team, just to put it bluntly. If that value doesn’t bring back $2 million, you’re doing something wrong as an owner. And that’s what we see.”

Final words on MLB lockout

In summing up his points, Sewald referenced a recent tweet from The Associated Press linking to an article on MLB lockout negotiations that caught a lot of flak for a perceived owners-friendly framing in explaining why he found it important to go on the air on 710 ESPN Seattle and share the players’ side.

What Sewald said: “I think all of us players and the union want to get our message across because anyone who reads things on Twitter from AP News or – I’ll not mention other names of people – that’s an MLB agenda. … We just want to bring the value that we feel that we give to these major league teams, and I understand that it’s frustrating for the fans and there are no winners or losers in a situation like that for the fans… (but) this is my message to fans: If you have the opportunity to fight for your own working conditions, would you fight for your own working conditions? That’s essentially what we’re doing, and it doesn’t matter how much money we make or what we do for a living. We get to play a game, but if you’ve got to fight for your working conditions, I would think that you would as well, and that’s essentially what we’re doing.”

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Mariners’ Paul Sewald explains players’ side to MLB lockout negotiations