If you’ve been asking yourself why this offseason is different from other recent offseasons, it’s not just that they forgot to water the free agent starting pitchers and now the crop isn’t looking so great. There’s also the fact that we’re just over a week away from the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement and the owners and MLBPA are still working out the details. While it’s certainly not unusual for these type of negotiations to drag and drag and then get ‘er done at the eleventh hour, there is some cause for concern.
The latest news is that the owners are willing to consider locking out the players, which would put trades, signings and (please, dear baseball gods, no) actual baseball on hold until an agreement is reached. Now, there’s a reasonable chance this is just posturing on the part of the owners to get the MLBPA to acquiesce on some demands, but it’s also a little bit frightening. We’ve had 21 years of labor peace in baseball and, despite the naysayers’ contention that baseball is dead or dying, the sport is not only healthy, but making money hand over fist with record local television deals, so it seems like the opposing sides should be able to work something out. Here, we’re going to take a look at at some of the biggest issues underlying this high-stakes game of chicken.
Qualifying Offer System
We already talked about this issue in depth last offseason, so you can refer to those articles if you want to read about the details of the current qualifying offer system (QOS) and some possible fixes. What’s new is that we’ve learned that the owners are proposing to simply get rid of the QOS altogether and simply give teams a draft pick when they lose a player to free agency. While it was my opinion that getting rid of the QOS was by far the best solution, I didn’t think there was any way it would happen because the owners wouldn’t want to give it up. According to Ken Rosenthal, it turned out there was something that they want even more than the QOS, though, and they’re willing to make this concession in order to get it.
Initiation of an International Draft
And there’s the rub. The owners are willing to get rid of the QOS because they want an international draft badly, for a variety of reasons, some noble, some not. First off, subjecting international players to a draft would, on the whole, be economically favorable to the owners, as the teams would be able to apply the same tools they use to depress US-born MLB players’ salaries until those players reach free agency.
As it stands, there are international spending limits, but those seem to be more intended to keeping the richer teams from hogging all the international free agents and those same rich teams have shown that they will blow past those spending limits, as the penalties aren’t severe enough to keep them from doing so. Obviously, an international draft will be of a large benefit to small and mid-market teams who will now be on equal footing with the Dodgers, Cubs and other rich teams when it comes to recruiting international talent.
Even if you absolutely hate unions and the concept of trying to level the playing field for cash-poor teams, there are certainly some things to be said in favor of an international draft. You’ve probably read accounts of Cuban players’ journeys to the US (and, if not, start with the story of the late, great José Fernandez and the truly insane story of Yasiel Puig’s defection), so there’s definitely something to be said for stopping those things from happening and putting an end to large amounts of said players’ salaries going to handlers. There’s also the hope that it will help do away with age controversies and PED use by international agents looking to get signed, as well.
On the whole, though, a straight-swap of the QOS for an international draft would be a huge boon for the owners. While the QOS allows owners to reign in the salaries of a very small group of players every year (there were only ten players to receive a qualifying offer this offseason), subjecting all international players, who make up a huge percentage of players in the minor and major leagues, to a draft would save owners far, far more money than the QOS, so you can see why they are digging their heels in on this issue.
Length of Season
There was some talk this season about potentially shortening the regular season to 154 games as it was back in the early 1960’s. The current 162-game season takes 183 days, which means only 21 days off over that period. That, combined with the necessity of travel (worsened, obviously, by interleague play), makes for a grueling schedule for the players. However, there’s a lot of money to be made on ticket sales, concessions and television advertising over those eight games, so it currently appears that the owners are only willing to make a slight concession and add four off-days by extending the season 187 days while keeping it at 162 games.
Roster Size Changes
There is word that one of the changes coming will be an expansion of the normal roster size to 26. Having an extra player available theoretically means more off days throughout the grueling season of death, but in reality it will probably translate to a LOOGY on your roster who comes in, throws 15 pitches before he gives up a hit and is removed and will thereby be responsible for wasting about 15 minutes of your life every other game. It does certainly mean an extra member of the MLBPA making major league money, and had been rumored to be coming, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Also in the realm of non-surprising developments is the reduction of the September roster from 40 to a more manageable 28 or 29. This should down on pitching changes and get us back some of the time we will have given up with our brand new LOOGYs over the course of the first five months of the season.
Luxury Tax Increase
As of this moment, all we know for sure is that the $189-million luxury-tax threshold is set to go up. Also as of this moment, per Spotrac, every team is sitting below that threshold. Perhaps the rich teams are waiting to make their big signings until after this gets sorted. While this issue isn’t the kind of thing that’s going to keep a deal from being reached by any stretch of the imagination, it’s definitely of interest in terms of the deals being inked for the biggest free agents this offseason.
Here’s to hoping that this is just a bunch of posturing and that we can do another article discussing what the changes were and get back to debating and discussing the signings of pitchers who we have little doubt will not really make our teams that much better. Because I, for one, would rather write about Ivan Nova’s four-year, $60 million deal than spend weeks, months or, baseball gods forbid, a whole season, talking about the nuances of a labor contract and why a sport where yearly revenues are in the billions can’t figure out how to get its $%!@ together. It’s not time to start losing our appetites or sleep over the CBA yet, though. Enjoy your turkey tomorrow, but then keep a weary, tryptophan-tired eye on Twitter over the weekend, because we aren’t out of the boring contract negotiation woods yet.