The CBA Was A Great Deal, If You’re Rostered
Just a couple of weeks ago, in light of varying reports that labor peace could come to an end, I said that, “the crux of the debate [is] how much will the MLBPA, and especially Tony Clark, where this is his first time negotiating a CBA, defend the rights of those yet to be in the union compared to those already in it.” It’s no surprise that the MLBPA would defend the rights of its own current members, but that doesn’t mean it fully defends players yet to be in the union, or players who have not fully reaped the financial rewards of free agency just yet. Here are a few reasons why that isn’t the case in the next iteration of the CBA.
You can’t talk about this current CBA without talking about the new international amateur system. Instead of instituting an international draft, which would have been the absolute worst outcome, the union got something that is only slightly better: bonus pools are now capped at $5 million, and you can’t go over. Teams can trade for up to 75 percent of their pool, and they can trade their entire pool away. Oh, and the age range now extends to age-25 players, as opposed to 23.
This… is not great. In essence, this is just a proxy draft with competition. Players’ salaries are capped, and the owners’ spending will be a net-negative compared to last time around. This also squeezes out Cuban players between 23 and 25–the players we have often seen come over–and players from NPB like Shohei Otani, who now can’t come stateside until 2019. This is objectively bad, right? You’re limiting the talent pool by a certain amount, and you’re also lowering the salaries of players who are usually destitute before they come into the league.
Some say this will increase competition and it could work out better than before, but the old ills are still in place: buscones still have a stranglehold over the industry; and, if anything, a drop in revenue for them will only trickle down to the young players who are usually 13 to 16 years of age. It’s yet to be seen what the result will be, but I can’t imagine it’s good.
Next is the qualifying offer system and the luxury tax. So, in exchange for no international draft, the owners didn’t even get rid of the system entirely! It’s an echo of the old system, where teams forfeit third round picks, or second and fifth round picks if they’re over the luxury tax. The luxury tax limit will increase from $189 million to $210 million by 2021. The penalties are also higher based on further offenses, meaning a third-time offender could be taxed at around $100 million in year three. This only provides a further incentive for large market teams to downgrade their payroll. Oh yeah, and if you’re $40 million over the cap, then your first draft pick slides back ten picks. The days of putting up with the overage are over.
In the end, this creates a harder salary cap, which is bad for players. Small market teams already have internal caps, and larger market teams, the teams who drive prices and set precedent, have more of a reason to never hit that cap again.
There’s other stuff, too, like more random drug tests, more off days, a 10-day disabled list, a small increase in the league minimum salary, and making World Series home field advantage based on best record instead of the All-Star Game. These are all good things, I think. The 10-day disabled list may have unintended consequences where “phantom DL’ing” may occur, but more rest is better than playing hurt. My concern is what isn’t in the agreement, though.
There is nothing on minor league salaries, or drug test standards and due process for non-union members, nor are there changes to the arbitration system. These elements, along with the international component, are the ones that matter.
Good players will get paid. With more TV money and decent spending across the league now as opposed to top-heavy spending, talented players will always get their due. The problem is that, across history, most baseball players aren’t actually rich. Your median ballplayer is a one-and-done prospect, or an international amateur who was signed for $10,000, and then was released without a high school degree.
With rising inequality an issue across society, profits at the top create an illusion, where the top of society prospers to mask the declining prospects of those at the bottom; while the mean amount of cash goes up, the median stays the same. While we may gawk at free agent prices for the very top year after year, the fact remains: if you’re not a wealthy owner or player, then this CBA isn’t meant for you.