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The Longest Week: Five days of interminable intractability in search for a new CBA

Major League Baseball met with the Players’ Association every day this week, but a new CBA seems far from complete.

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Tony Clark, executive director of Major League Baseball Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images

On Wednesday, I made the following pitch for a potential article: “For this weekend, can I write about how the meetings between MLB and the MLBPA played out? If they reach a deal, the piece would be more of a ‘thoughts on the new CBA piece.’”

If they reach a deal.” Kevin, you hopeless dreamer. It’s a good thing that “thoughts on the new CBA” was not your Plan A. Your punishment for such foolishness is to discuss the week that was in labor negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA.

So. The good news: It appears that everyone feels some sense of urgency, as MLB and the MLBPA met every day this week (and will do so today as well) to try and hash out the details of a new collective bargaining agreement in time to start spring training, and therefore the standard 162-game season, on time. The bad news; For all that work, a new CBA seems only marginally closer than it was a week ago, with plenty to still figure out ahead of the owners’ Monday deadline.

Monday: The league made some adjusted proposals to the players. Among them, a $5 million increase in funds allocated to the new pre-arbitration pool, moving the league’s total to $20 million.

The league also proposed including four teams in a draft lottery that would ostensibly help address tanking. On both ideas though, there is a lot of space between what the owners want and what the players want. The MLBPA is requesting a bonus pool of $115 million and would like to include eight teams in the lottery in an attempt to disincentivize tanking as much as possible.

The league also pulled some ideas of the table. Most notable, the cartoonishly tone-deaf idea of reducing minor league roster sizes went in the scrap pile, along with a proposal to cap the amount of times a player can be optioned in a single season at five.

Tuesday: Two days in and The Athletic’s Evan Drellich summed it up best: “On both days, the proposals have not appeared to build much momentum, or appeared to include anything other than incremental changes.”

This time, it was the MLBPA’s turn to present proposals. Arbitration eligibility and the minimum salary highlighted the union’s pitch. For the former, the Players’ Association asked to bring 75 percent of players with two-to-three years of service time into the process, down from 80 percent in a previous proposal. MLB has thus far held firm that no additional players will be brought in (about 22 percent of qualified players are currently eligible).

The union also asked to bump up the minimum salary. The 2022 minimum aligned with a previous proposal ($775,000) but in Tuesday’s proposal, the MLBPA asked for annual $30,000 raises annually for the duration of the CBA, adjusting for inflation and then some as revenues continue to rise.

Wednesday: Major League Baseball’s turn at the plate, so to speak. The league countered the players’ proposal for the minimum salary, with the league proposing both a lower starting point and less gradual annual increases.

But because we can’t have nice things, Wednesday’s negotiations came with a warning from the league: Reach a deal by the February 28th deadline, or the season will not start on time. Missed games will not be rescheduled and players will not be paid for the full season.

The players, showing that they’re not just going to roll over, reiterated that if they don’t get a full season, the players will pull expanded playoffs off the table for at least 2022, a concept that could be worth $100 million annually to MLB.

Thursday: Back to the players, who made proposals pertaining to service time manipulation and the amateur draft. Predictably, the league was unhappy with the union’s offers.

If the week has had a highlight, at least through Thursday, it is that Ken Rosenthal finally lost his temper. In a wonderfully scathing indictment published in The Athletic, Kenny summoned the power of his rhetoric to blast the league’s approach thus far:

“But the owners’ strategy from the start was to squeeze the union until regular-season games were in jeopardy, all the while recoiling in disgust when the player-serfs rejected their crumbs and refused to view them as benevolent despots.”

Good stuff, Ken. Good stuff.

Friday: Maybe it is darkest before the dawn. Friday came and went with no deal, but for the first time, there seemed to be some actual movement on an issue of importance. Major League Baseball made a proposal related to the amateur draft and the union responded on the same day.

According to Drellich and Rosenthal, the framework the owners proposed and that the players accepted still involved only four teams in a draft lottery. But, “some other restrictions on the draft are in place,” which would represent a win for the players. There was also an attempt on the part of the owners to tie changes in the draft to a 14-team expanded postseason. Predictably, the union’s response to that was unenthusiastic, as that’s the biggest piece of bait in the MLBPA’s kit, and they’re not going to trade it for mere draft tweaks.

One other interesting item out of Friday: The league also asked for a shortened amount of time before it has the power to implement on-field changes. A pitch clock came up in specific conversation, per Rosenthal and Drellich’s reporting. Previously, the league had the ability to impose rule changes a year after proposing them. MLB on Friday pushed to expedite that process.

Although the meetings ended without a new CBA, I doubt anyone expected one on Friday given how the work week progressed.

So here we are. Five days of negotiations, very little movement from owners who seem determined to “win” the CBA in a rout, and near-radio silence thus far on the issue of the competitive balance tax, likely to be the most contentious of a contested batch of issues facing the league and the union.

All this comes as the clock ticks toward that league-imposed February 28th deadline, after which MLB has said it will cancel regular season games (exhibitions through March 7th are already nixed). In return, the MLBPA has threatened to pull expanded playoffs off the table. So far, negotiations have been more infuriating and irritating than anything. But depending on the next few days, this could get ugly. The league has refused to appreciably budge on almost all issues and the players have shown more intestinal fortitude than I suspect most people expected.