NEW YORK – Locked-out Major League Baseball players removed the first of three major obstacles to a labor contract, withdrawing their proposal for more liberalized free agency when the sides met face-to-face for the first time since the management lockout began Dec. 1.
During a bargaining session that lasted a little more than two hours at the Midtown Manhattan office of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, the union also modified its revenue-sharing proposal, asking the amount shifted from big markets to smaller ones be cut by what it said was $30 million, a figure management disputed. Players earlier asked for a $100 million reduction.
Management is adamant not to decrease revenue sharing. Clubs also maintain they will not budge on salary arbitration eligibility, which players want to restore to its pre-1987 level when it was two years of major league service.
Another meeting in the contentious talks is scheduled for Tuesday, the first consecutive sessions since the bargaining collapse last fall that led to baseball’s ninth work stoppage, its first since 1995.
Neither side commented publicly on the proposal, a response to management’s offer on Jan. 13 – made during an online session that was the first bargaining over core economics after a 42-day break. Details of the union’s proposal were discussed by two people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no public statements were authorized.
While there was significant movement in one of three areas clubs claim are both key to a deal and non-negotiable, the Feb. 16 start of spring training remains threatened.
Opening day is scheduled for March 31, and a deal would have to be reached by late February or early March for an on-time start, given the need for players to go through COVID-19 protocols and then have at least three weeks of training and some exhibition games.
Andrew Miller, a relief pitcher with 12 years of service, was the only player to attend the bargaining session.
Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort, chairman of the owners’ labor policy committee, was part of a four-man MLB delegation, accompanied by Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem, executive vice president Morgan Sword and senior vice president Patrick Houlihan.
Free agent eligibility has been six years of service since 1976. Players proposed last summer that it be lowered gradually by the 2025-26 offseason to six years of service or five years of service and age 29.5, whichever comes earlier.
Players withdrew that proposal but still ask that service time can be credited for special accomplishments, such as finishing among the top five in Rookie of the Year voting, highly in relief of the year balloting or being picked for a first- or second- all-MLB team. That proposal is to address alleged manipulation of service time; the union filed an unsuccessful grievance claiming the Chicago Cubs broke rules when they delayed Kris Bryant‘s debut in 2015 to leave him one day shy of free agent eligibility after the 2020 season.
Management has a far more limited proposal that would award teams an additional amateur draft pick for a young player’s accomplishment. The theory is clubs would advance potential stars to the majors in attempts to earn the extra selection.
Both sides are offering a lottery at the top of the amateur draft to increase competition and decrease the likelihood a team would tear down its roster in the hope of getting the top pick. Teams proposed that all non-postseason clubs participate in a weighted lottery for the top-three choices and a club be ineligible to get a top-three selection more than two years in a row. Players want the top eight picks determined by a lottery.
Other major issues are the minimum salary and luxury tax thresholds and rates. Players asked the minimum rise from $570,500 last year to $775,000 this season and gradually to $875,000 by 2026. Teams proposed raising it to $600,000 for players with less than a year of big league service, $650,000 for at least one but less than two and $700,000 for at least two. Each would rise $10,000 annually, to $640,000, $690,000 and $740,000 in 2026.
Unhappy with a 4% drop in payrolls to 2015 levels, players want to lift the luxury tax threshold from $210 million last year to $245 million this season and to eliminate non-tax penalties. Teams want to raise the threshold to $214 million.
Salary arbitration eligibility since 2013 has been three seasons plus the top 22% by service time of players with at least two years but less than three years. The union says it will not consider MLB’s proposal to replacing the “super two” arbitration group with additional spending for the entire two-plus class based on performance.