AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association may be mere weeks away from hitting a major impasse.
The Associated Press’ Ronald Blum reported Sunday that a work stoppage is “almost certain to start Dec. 2.”
“Negotiations have been taking place since last spring, and each side thinks the other has not made proposals that will lead toward an agreement replacing the five-year contract that expires at 11:59 p.m. EST on Dec. 1,” Blum wrote.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a shocking development. When negotiations about a shortened 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic broke down, it served as a microcosm of the lingering tension between players and owners.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan briefly explained the divide between the two sides in June:
“At the heart of the talks are two entities trying to redefine themselves. The union, stung by an economic sea change that has cut into player salaries in recent years, wants to establish itself again as a powerhouse that for decades was considered the most successful union in America. MLB, fearful of its inability to capture the zeitgeist, sees an overhaul of its on-field product as imperative to relevance in the era of short attention spans.”
In particular, the players’ union is bound to dig its heels in based on the recent spending habits of team owners.
More franchises are taking a long-term view in terms of building their roster, to the extent that big-market organizations such as the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs made trimming their payrolls a priority.
Per Blum, the average salary for an MLB player was just under $4.1 million in 2017. That figure was $3.9 million in 2020 and is projected at around $3.7 million for the 2021 season. The trend runs counter to how the valuations for each franchise are up almost across the board, per Forbes.
The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal reported in August that MLB proposed lowering the luxury-tax threshold from $210 million to $180 million while instituting a $100 million salary floor.
Drellich and Rosenthal explained the potential pitfall of the proposal:
“The commissioner’s office might be marketing the deal as a way to force the bottom teams to spend, and help prevent tanking. But a team that wants to keep its payroll down could still give an above-market deal to a player just to satisfy the minimum, without meaningfully improving the team.”
Passan spoke to a “longtime official” who expressed optimism that MLB and the MLBPA can work things out before jeopardizing any portion of the 2022 schedule. But protracted negotiations could significantly impact any offseason business even if an agreement is struck before Opening Day.