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MLB Lockout: The key sticking point and what’s next in CBA talks

Mar 1, 2022, 9:17 AM
MLB Lockout...
Baseball fan Noah McMurrain of Boynton Beach, Fla., stands outside Roger Dean Stadium as Major League Baseball negotiations continue in an attempt to reach an agreement to salvage a March 31 start to the regular season, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The MLB lockout is already the second-longest work stoppage in the history of the sport, behind only the 1994-95 players’ strike. But early Tuesday morning in Jupiter, Florida, where negotiations between owners and the players’ union lasted over 15 hours, fans saw reason for hope that the 2022 season could start on time.

MLB Lockout: Deadline for labor deal pushed to Tuesday for March 31 start

“The Hail Mary pass (in Monday’s talks) is some sort of progress that delays the league from cancelling games even though they put this deadline here,” ESPN’s Jesse Rogers told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake & Stacy Monday. Rogers is one of the reporters who covered negotiations live from Jupiter.

According to Jeff Passan, Rogers’ ESPN colleague, that’s exactly what happened at the end of Monday’s negotiations.

Queue the temporary sigh of relief.

Considering how far apart the two sides were last weekend, owners postponing their arbitrary Feb. 28 deadline is the best-case scenario for baseball fans (outside of a new CBA and an end to the MLB lockout, at least). Were there no new CBA completed, it would’ve triggered the cancellation of the start of the regular season on March 31. While there’s still no CBA, enough progress has reportedly been made to postpone that deadline to Tuesday.

What’s the big sticking point?

Heading into Monday, the belief was that the biggest sticking point for both sides was the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold, which acts as a soft salary cap for the league. In 2021, that was set at $210 million. Players would like to see it increase to $245 million in 2022. Owners had previously been set at $214 million, increased that offer to $215 million over the weekend, and reportedly went as high as $220 million on Monday.

Why does it matter so much to players?

“That’s the thing that gets the stars of the league paid the most,” Rogers said. “You raise that, and you lessen the penalties (for surpassing it), and the star players will get paid. The minimum salary is (another) sticking point, though it shouldn’t be. The league should just raise that… make that $700,000 and you’ll have some happy rookies this year for sure. But the CBT seems to be the biggest issue…

“It’s a complicated issue because it’s really a tax on other owners. They’ve doubled the penalties under the league’s proposal because they don’t want the Dodgers or more specifically the Mets new owner, Steve Cohen, spending like crazy on players. And who’s on the labor committee for the league? It’s the owner of the Colorado Rockies, the Rangers – these are the teams up against some of the higher payroll teams in the league and they want to keep some of those payrolls down so they can compete. Then you have the small market teams that don’t spend at all that won’t relent on getting the revenue sharing system as-is. So, it’s complicated, but that’s why CBT is the biggest issue. Long story short: it affects big markets, small markets, and star players.”

That’s not the only issue, though.

There’s also the pre-arbitration bonus pool, a new concept that would reward the league’s youngest (and thus least compensated) stars for stellar play. Here’s Mariners reliever Paul Sewald explaining that concept using Aaron Judge’s rookie season as an example.

Players believe it should amount to $115 million. At the end of Monday’s negotiations, MLB had reportedly offered $25 million.

Finally, there was the issue of expanded playoffs. Owners, who recognize the lucrative opportunities of additional playoff games, proposed a 14-team playoff pool. The two sides have reportedly settled on 12 teams.

What now?

First of all, everyone needs to get some sleep.

Secondly, the two sides will need to iron out their still-significant difference in the pre-arbitration bonus pool and competitive balance tax.

There is also a much smaller, but equally important, difference in minimum salary.

“(When it comes to the PR battle), the union can just say one thing: average salaries have gone down over the last three or four years,” Rogers said. “In sports, that should not be happening. Player salaries on average should not be going down. The revenues are through the roof, all that jazz. So, the union has a much better argument to be made, they have the moral high ground, but the league can make its own arguments (including pointing to their lack of a true salary cap), they’ve just, I feel, done a poor job.”

For now, there’s no delay to the start of the season and no cancellation of games.

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