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Owners, MLBPA still far apart as February looms

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Reviewing the progress made over the last two days of talks between MLB, MLBPA.

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MLB: DEC 02 Major League Baseball Lockout Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, MLB and the MLBPA held back-to-back bargaining sessions to discuss some of the core economic issues in the next CBA. These meetings came on the heels of MLB’s initial proposal to the union on January 13th — the first talks between the two sides in 43 days after the start of the lockout — and that increase in the volume of contact between sides is progress in and of itself. Unfortunately, any cause for optimism pretty much ends there.

Evan Drellich, senior writer for The Athletic, has been the preeminent source on all things CBA. If you haven’t read through his timeline of events leading up to and throughout the lockout, I highly recommend doing so, as he’s provided a comprehensive image of where both sides stand as talks progress. However, for those of you without a subscription, I thought we could take the time to review the major developments of Monday’s and Tuesday’s meetings and ponder how the Yankees may be affected by the proposals tabled by MLB and the MLBPA.

The Monday session certainly got off to an inauspicious start, with deputy commissioner Dan Halem opening the meeting with a statement (or threat depending on how one chooses to interpret his words) that the owners would be willing to lose regular season games in order to avoid making certain concessions. Rockies owner and chair of the owners’ labor policy committee Dick Monfort followed that up by “complaining about the difficulty at least some owners have affording teams.” In a word: yikes.

That was about as contentious as things would get, and it appears both sides found common ground on some economic issues, if not the dollar amounts. MLB proposed to raise the league minimum from $570,500 to $615,000, although this is still $160,000 short of the union’s $775,000 proposal, is not commensurate with inflation of revenue, and comes attached with a proviso that teams may not pay eligible players more than the minimum, something they were allowed to do under the previous CBA.

MLB and MLBPA also both proposed a bonus pool system, paid out of MLB central revenue, that would provide pre-arbitration eligible players means of earning additional money based on performance. That is where the similarities in the offers ended, as MLB proposed a $10 million bonus pool versus MLBPA’s $105 million proposal.

The biggest positive I took away from these meetings — and I had to squint to see it — was that both sides have indicated they are willing to compromise to bring talks to a middle ground. The union dropped their ask to reduce the time to free agency. They had previously proposed an aged-based system that would allow some players to reach free agency before accruing six years of service time, but this proved to be a non-negotiable for the owners. In return, the owners ditched their attempt to eliminate arbitration. We’ve recently heard about the owners’ desire to remove arbitration in exchange for a WAR-based formula of compensation, but the union made it clear that trying to get rid of any form of arbitration would be an un-winnable battle.

After taking some time to digest the current lay of the CBA battlefield, I began to wonder what effects these economic proposals would have on the Yankees if they were instituted. The union wants to obtain added financial security for players earlier in their careers, whether by the increased league minimums or an eventual reduction in time to arbitration from three to two years. Meanwhile, the Yankees seem hell-bent on having Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza inherit the starting shortstop responsibilities sooner rather than later. With a revised arbitration system that causes salaries to accelerate earlier on, perhaps the Yankees would be more willing to spend on an impact free agent shortstop this winter. On the flip side, the union backing down from their attempt to reduce the service time needed to reach free agency reinforces the Yankees’ incentive to fill out their roster with cost-controlled youngsters instead of high-priced free agents.

Given the changing landscape of the league’s talent structure — with teams relying more and more on cost-controlled players making at or near the league minimum to provide the bulk of on-field production — it is no surprise that talks have focused around ways to compensate these young players. When the two sides could reach an agreeable middle ground remains to be seen, and each day that passes increases the risk of a delayed spring training or even missed games. Still, some progress is better than no progress.