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Lockout update! Digging into MLB’s first proposal, why the Players’ Association declined, and what’s next

It isn’t much, but, at the very least, we have something to talk about.

On Thursday, Major League Baseball presented its first labour-related proposal to the Players’ Association since the beginning of the lockout, ending what had been a 43-day stalemate.

Unfortunately (and, well, unsurprisingly) it was a very one-sided offer, one that Jeff Passan of ESPN said “did little to encourage the players and heightened the likelihood of spring training being postponed.” The meeting, which reportedly took place over the span of one hour, consisted of MLB presenting its proposal and the players agreeing to present an official counter-proposal at an unspecified time in the future.

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Here’s a quick run-down of what the league presented in its offer…

  • A lottery for the top pick in the draft. The worst three teams are in the lottery and the winner gets the top draft pick. Also, to address tanking, teams wouldn’t be allowed in the lottery for three consecutive years. The PA has also been in favour of a lottery, but they want it expanded to eight teams to further dissuade tanking.
  • A draft for international players. This would scrap the current system that features an international free-agent signing window and a bonus pool system in which teams can only offer international players a certain amount of money.
  • An expanded post-season bracket. MLB wants to expand the playoffs to involve 14 teams, a significant jump from the current 10-team format. The players have said they’re willing to go to a 12-team format.
  • Universal designated hitter. This has been widely expected to be a part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement as both sides appear to be in favour of having the DH in both leagues.
  • Eliminating the “Super Two” arbitration system and replacing it by having eligible players have their salaries determined by a formula. The players have been skeptical of having salaries tied to a formula, such as part of a previous proposal by MLB to get rid of the current arbitration system.
  • Draft pick compensation to avoid service time manipulation. If a team has a Top 100-ranked prospect on its Opening Day roster and that player finished in the top five in voting for the MVP, Cy Young, or Rookie Of The Year during an arbitration-eligible season, the team would receive a bonus draft pick.

So, all told, the owners’ offer featured two things that they want badly (a draft for international players and an expanded post-season field) and it offered very little concession back to the players in return. While the draft pick idea for dissuading teams from manipulating service time could be helpful, it’s far from an adequate solution to the major, overarching issue for players, which is that they want to be able to reach free agency sooner.

If the players are going to concede a larger playoff format, something that’s obviously very important to the owners because it’ll result in a massive sum of television revenue for games in which the players aren’t paid, they’re going to want something big back in return. Whether the players actually care about the purity of keeping MLB’s playoffs small is up in the air, but, ultimately, this is the thing they can offer to the owners in exchange for something like altering the free agency age, removing draft pick penalties, or raising the luxury tax ceiling.

Just like how MLB’s proposal made it clear what the owners’ top priorities are (international draft, expanded post-season), we’ll see when the players submit their counter-offer what the keys are for them specifically.

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Pitchers and catchers are supposed to report to Florida and Arizona in about a month and spring training games are scheduled to begin on February 26. It’s safe to say that there won’t be a deal reached by then and that spring training is going to be pushed back. The question, of course, is how long this goes on.

The owners will try to push the narrative that they’re offering solutions and the players are declining because they’re greedy. NBC Sports tried to carry water for the league with this post below that said “MLB proposes return to work, MLBPA balks,” which is technically accurate but wildly disingenuous to what’s actually going on.

This post got slammed by fans and even resulted in a response from Passan, who said “I most certainly did not report that. So please fix your headline, delete your tweet or take me entirely out of this poor excuse for whatever you’re trying to do.”

The players certainly have a lot more support than they have in the past, both from fans and from the media, but we’ll see how that carries on when the PA tables its first proposal, which will surely include the ability to reach free agency sooner. This will be framed as players trying to kill off small-market teams, who aren’t able to compete with the Big Boys if players are allowed to become free agents after five years (despite the fact they get to pocket revenue-sharing cheques).

One positive that talks could heat up is this report that Apple is ready to throw an ass-load of cash at MLB for the rights to broadcast games. Amazon recently paid nearly $1 billion for the rights to NFL games so having something like this on the horizon would give the owners an added incentive to not have this lockout go on for so long that games start getting canceled.

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