Eight days ago, MLB officially cancelled Opening Day and nixed the first two weeks of the season after CBA negotiations in Florida with the MLB Players’ Association fell apart. There was no indication of when the league and union might meet again, but they did pick talks back up toward the end of the week. There was even faint hope that an agreement early this week could’ve even led to a 162-game season after all, with the help of some rescheduling.
However, while the negotiations seem to have improved somewhat in the past few days and the two sides inched closer to logical midpoints in discussions of CBT thresholds, the pre-arbitration pool, minimum salary, and playoff spots, the league threw a bit of a curveball at the players. The owners decided to tie their moves on these tricky topics to another part of the CBT that suddenly became contentious: the international draft. When talks surrounding this shake-up to the system didn’t go well on Tuesday or Wednesday, MLB announced that it would be cancelling the next two series of 2022.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred: "Because of the logistical realities of the calendar, another two series are being removed from the schedule, meaning that Opening Day is postponed until April 14th."— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) March 9, 2022
The soonest that Opening Day could possibly be is April 14th, and since that would be the end of the Yankees’ fourth series, that’s cancelled for them as well. At the moment, they would start back up on April 15th, the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut. That game would be in Baltimore with the Orioles, and the new home opener would be April 22nd against the Guardians.
All that talk, though, is assuming the league decides to back down from the international draft or finds another solution, because it has thrown everything into a tizzy. This draft had been included in previous owner proposals but was not made a priority. The league had actually talked about introducing this draft during the last two CBA negotiations as well before dropping it, and now the topic is back again, surging back into focus just in the past couple days.
A notable contingent of the players’ union — one that developed through the current system, including superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. — is against the draft for a number of reasons. It is absolutely fair to say that the current international system is flawed; pre-signing deals are rampant with very young players not even close to the agreed-upon age and buscones take a sizeable chunk of every negotiated contract. It’s not right, but then again, MLB has simply allowed this all to happen, largely unchecked except for the most extreme of circumstances. Players are understandably skeptical that the new system would be that much better through an adjustment in management and operations, with the only major difference being that the league would get to keep more money through locked-in draft slots and less leverage for the amateurs.
The other problem is that MLB attempted to directly connect the draft to the union’s desire to eliminate the qualifying offer system:
Mistated this. Option 1 and option 2 are timed together. Other option is no draft, no elimination of draft-pick comp. https://t.co/dXaTlRtiwM— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 9, 2022
This is an issue because while the qualifying offer system is unobjectionably terrible at this point in MLB history, it only affects a small number of players every year. As the current CBA has gone on, fewer and fewer teams have even made qualifying offers — this past offseason, it was down to just 14. So in essence, MLB is asking players to give them something that they’ve wanted for a decade in exchange for something that will hardly impact the majority of the union. The union does not have many notable bargaining chips against the owners aside from this and the number of playoff spots. The mere end of qualifying offers is not worth it.
So as indicated by the Ken Rosenthal tweet above, MLB decided the respond to the MLBPA’s latest proposal with an ultimatum (always a friendly sign of good-faith negotiations). They could either eliminate the QO system and implement an international draft in 2024, move forward with the QO system still in place and no international draft, or end the QO system while allowing MLB the option to potentially reopen the CBA in 2024 if there is no agreement on the international draft by November.
Given the nightmare that has been the current CBA negotiations, I don’t think anyone wants a new CBA discussion to begin sooner than needed after this current one ends. Also, agreeing to any of these options would be tacitly agreeing with the owners about there being an equivalency between the QO and the international draft, which there really isn’t.
Yankees beat writer Erik Boland summed up the frustrations surrounding the very essence of the international draft’s presence in these negotiations quite effectively:
Essentially MLB took something the union has always been against - the international draft, & regardless of narrative, the PA has always objected to it - & turned it into a poison pill of sorts w/ these talks. Now, like Captain Renault, MLB is “shocked” the PA is still against it— Erik Boland (@eboland11) March 9, 2022
The union did try to make another pitch to the owners that met them halfway on one of these options, but the league didn’t go for it:
Per union source, league declined to respond to this counter… https://t.co/cvQNvKXx8k— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 9, 2022
So here we are again, back in limbo about Opening Day. Isn’t the business world of baseball fun? Thanks as always to the billionaire owners who won’t give up an inch on money that they could financially afford to forget about in the blink of an eye.
This is actually a great idea, and it could save the full 162-game season. The sides need to revisit this now, and hopefully agree to it. They can retract the release and play ball! No good reason not to do it! https://t.co/BoRjK2BW0Y— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 10, 2022
Sources: Indeed, the sides will talk tonight about the international draft proposal iniated by Manfred Tuesday night and put forth by the union just after the 6 pm deadline. Hope exists! https://t.co/YMAzeodtqZ— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 10, 2022
Is there hope after all? Who knows. But take this if you’re looking for a dose of optimism.