On Monday, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote that no negotiating sessions were scheduled between MLB and the players’ union. That remains the case, but ESPN’s Jeff Passan writes Wednesday that “MLB is working on proposals to bring to the table.” Passan’s sources believe the “earliest negotiations will ramp up this time is late January.”
Passan suggests MLB is hoping to determine what tops the players’ list of priorities: the oft-repeated “competitive integrity” anti-tanking buzzword, getting players paid earlier in their careers or raising the competitive balance tax thresholds.
As has been reported previously, MLB’s most recent proposal had the CBT threshold starting at $214M in 2022. MLB’s proposal had the thresholds progressing only to $220M by the end of a presumed five-year deal. Going from $210M in ’21 to $220M in ’26 would be a 4.8% increase. As I’ll explain, that’d represent the union’s biggest failure yet in increasing the CBT.
Last month, I documented how the CBT thresholds have changed with each new CBA, after this tax was introduced in 1997. In 2003, the threshold was increased by 98.6% from the previous mark, jumping from $58.9M in ’99 all the way to $117M in ’03. That was the first of four collective bargaining agreements where CBT increases were on the table, once it was initially set at $51M in ’97.
That set of negotiations had the CBT ending at $136.5M in ’06. In the CBA spanning 2007-11, the players were able to get a 30.4% increase by ’11, jumping up to $178M. But in the CBA spanning 2012-16, the players had a major loss. They succeeded only in taking the CBT from $178M to $189M, an increase of about 6.2%. Compared to that $189M point, the 2017-21 CBA ended with an 11.1% bump to get to $210M.
The players have reportedly set their opening bid for the CBT at $245M. That implies they might hope to see it progress to around $260M by the end of the deal. A jump from a $210M starting point to a $260M ending point would represent a 23.8% increase, falling neatly between the player-favoring 30% increase of ’07 and the MLB-favoring 11% increase of ’17.
The CBT is a major issue, but it remains to be seen whether the players will abandon some other more aggressive asks to prioritize it. As Passan sees it, if the two sides don’t make progress by Feb. 1, a spring training delay is likely. He feels that a lack of progress by March 1 “sets off the alarm” in terms of not starting the season on time, given all that must be done to be ready to play.
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