7:08 PM ET
- ESPN MLB insider
Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”
Major League Baseball canceled the second week of the regular season Wednesday after days of discussion with the MLB Players Association failed to generate a new collective-bargaining agreement.
The international draft, long part of negotiations but not until recently a central issue, scuttled talks Wednesday afternoon. A day earlier, the league had proposed tying an international draft that would cover amateurs from Latin America and Asia to the removal of direct draft-pick compensation, in which teams are penalized draft picks for signing top free agents.
Players balked at the idea, rejected proposals from the league to address it and sent a counteroffer. The league then canceled another week of games.
The fallout could be enormous. The league had tied a deal this week to playing a 162-game schedule with full pay and full service time for players. The MLBPA has said that if the league refuses to agree to full pay and service time, it will remove expanded playoffs — a key to a new basic agreement for MLB — from its proposal. With the sides already unable to agree on core economic issues, the potential removal of a vital gain for the league and an additional item to bargain for the union — full service time is paramount — would add even more difficulty to the already-terse discussions.
On the 98th day of MLB’s lockout, an already problematic situation worsened, sources said.
Talks on the international draft bled from the late hours of Tuesday into Wednesday and picked back up Wednesday morning. Though financial gaps had been bridged enough to bring a deal within range, players balked at the international draft. A large contingent of the rank-and-file from Latin America opposes it, and player leadership, sources said, bristled at what it felt was the late introduction of it as a key issue to the league.
On Wednesday afternoon, sources said, MLB presented a trio of options to players and said it would not negotiate on other issues unless the union chose one of the paths:
One: Study an international draft, and if it is not accepted by the union by Nov. 15, 2022, reopen the entire collective-bargaining agreement after the 2024 season; additionally, remove direct draft-pick compensation.
Two: Take the international draft out of the deal — and maintain direct draft-pick compensation.
Three: Implement the international draft in 2024 in exchange for the removal of direct draft-pick compensation.
The union turned down the offers and countered by asking for the removal of direct draft-pick compensation in 2022 while the parties study the draft, sources said. If the players were to reject it, they proposed, the current international system would remain and draft-pick compensation would return following the 2022-23 offseason.
“The owners’ decision to cancel additional games is completely unnecessary. After making a set of comprehensive proposals to the league earlier this afternoon, and being told substantive responses were forthcoming, players have yet to hear back,” the union said in a Wednesday statement. “Players want to play, and we cannot wait to get back on the field for the best fans in the world. Our top priority remains the finalization of a fair contract for all players, and we will continue negotiations toward that end.”
The failure to reach a deal Wednesday could come with severe consequences if the parties don’t re-engage and strike a deal soon. Service-time considerations are especially vital to players, who reach salary arbitration after three full years of major league service and free agency after six. Players receive a full year of service if they spend 172 days on a major league roster. There are typically 186 days in a season, and if more than two weeks of the season are canceled, recouping service time would become part of any further negotiations.
Had the sides agreed to a deal Wednesday, the second-longest work stoppage in the game’s history would have ended and some semblance of normalcy would have returned after months of fraught negotiations. Now baseball finds itself in its most difficult position yet, with new obstacles to traverse as the game attempts to find its footing among an increasingly displeased fan base.
Prior to the league tying the international draft to direct draft-pick compensation on Tuesday, baseball’s core economics had been front and center in labor talks. In addition to the CBT and the penalties assigned to teams that exceed it, key items include the minimum salary governing players with less than three years of major league service and a bonus pool worth tens of millions that will be distributed among those younger players who have yet to reach arbitration.
MLB has pushed for expanding the postseason beyond 10 teams, and each side has shown a willingness to accept a 12-team version, though the league preferred 14. Additionally, the union, as part of its package offer, has been open to player uniforms featuring advertising for the first time, with patches on jerseys and decals on batting helmets.
Other elements of a potential deal have included: A 45-day window for MLB to implement rules changes — among them a pitch clock, ban on defensive shifts and larger bases in the 2023 season; the National League adopting the designated hitter; a six-team draft lottery implemented to discourage tanking; draft-pick inducements to discourage service-time manipulation; and limiting the number of times a player can be optioned to the minor leagues in one season to five.
The international draft, which MLB has sought for more than a decade, would begin in 2024. The league would place teams in pods of seven or eight and rotate their draft positions so each would have access to top amateur talent once every four years. The league says the draft system would guarantee more money for international talent than the current system, in which international amateurs are free agents who can sign with any team.
Currently, players are eligible to join organizations at 16 years old, though teams regularly enter into multimillion-dollar agreements with children as young as 12 and 13. MLB believes a draft will curb the corruption that is rife in the international market, with early signings, financial kickbacks and trainers giving performance-enhancing drugs to teenage boys among the foremost issues.
Talks on a new basic agreement began last year and moved slowly leading up to the Dec. 1 expiration of its previous version. The league and union made little progress in the months prior, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred locked out the players just past midnight on Dec. 2. A 43-day gap in negotiations ensued, and by the time the scheduled opening of spring training in mid-February rolled around, the gulfs between the parties’ financial positions were significant enough that the possibility of losing regular-season games grew stronger.
Manfred’s cancellation of Opening Day a week ago roiled players, who, after a 2016 negotiation that led to drastic economic consequences, were intent on making significant financial gains beyond 2022. Player salaries have dropped over the past four seasons despite growing revenues that topped out at an estimated $10.7 billion in 2019. The significant rise in franchise values — which have almost quadrupled over the past two basic agreements — became a rallying cry for players.
At the same time, the league, content with the current economic system, has pushed back on the massive gains players hoped to reap. While the potential guarantees for younger players amount to around $100 million, the game’s uncapped system allows teams to spend less on older players to balance out the added costs.