With the current collective bargaining agreement expiring this coming December, we’re all on alert for how Major League Baseball and the MLBPA will negotiate the next CBA to maintain the long-standing labor peace. Via the MLB Trade Rumors folks, I read the interview between the Associated Press and MLBPA head Tony Clark, in which they discussed various points of interest in the upcoming negotiations. Like any union leader, Clark’s job is to ensure that his constituents continue to have jobs and be paid as much as possible for them. The interview is broken up into several major points that you should read, but I’ll touch on a bit below.
The Qualifying Offer
I touched on this a bit in a previous blog, but it’s goofy to see a solid free agent in Dexter Fowler still be without a job because teams that would normally be happy to sign him are reluctant to forfeit a draft pick. This also ties into tanking, which, given the way hard slotting works in the MLB Draft now, is required to ensure the best possible picks even if drafting in baseball remains a bit of a crapshoot. Tony Clark broached the idea of a draft lottery like in the NBA, but some folks weren’t too pleased about that idea, and I’m not sure that it would be required in a sport like baseball where production can be so fickle. I believe that simply removing the hard slotting would help immensely, especially since the current situation was brought on by the previous negotiations anyway. Just undo it, right? Easier said than done, but I’m guessing they seriously consider a significant tweak to ensure that free agents don’t get stuck in limbo, and to address this tanking issue that the owners seem to hate now. Of course, I’m in favor of whatever helps the Cubs, so I shrug.
There are a number of reasons why a lot of folks are against the international draft, as I blogged about over two years ago. It does sound like MLB and the owners want to shoehorn it in still, and they’ll try to get it in by 2017 based on other stuff I’ve read. But at the same time, given Clark’s statement, depending on how you consider it, he either thinks it’s a good idea, or is diplomatically saying it’s a terrible idea. I’m not prescient enough to know how an international draft would affect the global baseball community or talent infusions into MLB, but I do know that many folks attribute the decline of baseball in Puerto Rico to the territory’s inclusion into the Rule 4 Draft. Hmmph.
The Luxury Tax
The Cubs aren’t in danger of exploding past the current luxury tax threshold anytime soon, but it sounds like Clark is interested in seeing if the new CBA will push the next luxury tax mark past the $189MM for this period. This will obvious benefit the super-spending teams like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, who have payrolls way past the threshold and have been not-so-covertly trying to rein in spending to reset their tax penalties. I’m not sure that this is necessarily a benefit for the already small-market guys, and may even hinder the Cubs if their revenue growth doesn’t allow them to compete with the larger spending Dodgers and Yankees, now unencumbered by luxury tax penalties. It does make sense for Clark and the MLBPA to push for this, since that means more money can flow into player pockets, but the new dynamics of baseball economics and for parity remain to be uncovered.
The Troubles With Offense
Once upon a time, I remarked on the decline in offense and the subtle expansion of the strike zone. Tony Clark is noncommittal on both in the interview, but if the commissioner’s comments over the past few year have any teeth, we should see some adjustment to allow offense to bounce back. As baseball fans, we all enjoy good plays, but above all, we like it when teams score. Clark didn’t really talk about specifics, but I imagine those will come into light closer to the World Series as MLB and MLBPA get ready to ratify the new agreement.
The Kris Bryant Rule
As you know, Cubs Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant filed a grievance against the Cubs for keeping him down for the bare minimum number of days in order to guarantee the full seventh year of club control. There’s nothing really to worry about here, but Bryant was mostly trying to set a precedent and at least get the wheels going for discussions about prospects that are ready during the CBA negotiations. Clark’s statement is notably ambiguous here:
“It would be great to assume that any of those decisions … were simply tied to the continued development of that particular ballplayer,” he said. “I haven’t been in any club’s rooms to know for certain that that is indeed why a decision was made vs. not.”
The interview touched briefly on shortening the regular season (most likely from the 162 game slate down to the previous 154), which Clark admitted was not an issue that was going to be taken too seriously for a number of reasons (read: money). There’s also the possibility of playing games in London starting in 2017, which sounds a bit better than having to go all the way to Australia like the Dodgers did in 2014. This year, it sounds like only the Pirates and Marlins will be playing a regular season series out of the continental states, but they’ll just be traveling to Puerto Rico. It is reasonable to try to expand baseball as a global game (which it already is), so these types of negotiations are to be expected, although fully globalizing MLB will obviously take many more years, if it even happens at all. Even with fuel costs plummeting, all that travel can wear at players and add up in team costs.
The other interesting point of discussion might be standardizing roster sizes when September rolls around. Tony Clark didn’t give any details, but I’ve seen proposals like dressing only 25 of the maximum 40 on the roster to prevent ten billion pitching changes and pinch appearances to slow the game down (something I recently thought about when pondering the designated hitter).
We still have almost 10 months before the expiration date, so details are scarce in advance of spring training. But we’ll absolutely be keeping an eye out for developments to keep baseball interesting and successful moving forward.