• Matt Dacey

Baseball is Back: The Journey to a New CBA


[1] On Thursday, March 10, 2022, Major League Baseball (“MLB”) and the MLB Players Association (“MLBPA”) tentatively agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”).[2] CBA negotiations lasted just shy of 100 days, the second longest work stoppage in the game’s history.[3] Owners, players, fans, and the media wondered how long the negotiations would last, especially in the days leading up to March 10. The league threatened to cancel games on multiple occasions and set imaginary “deadlines” to force the Players Association executive board and members to accept numerous CBA proposals.[4] In the end, both parties conceded several key points to arrive at a mutually agreeable contract that will serve as the game’s governing document for the next five years.[5]


Before the Madness


Major League Baseball’s most recent basic agreement expired on December 1 , 2021. In preparation for the impending CBA negotiations, MLB officials sent their first proposal to the union in August of 2021, positing a $100M salary floor and reverting the competitive balance tax (“CBT”) to $180M, $30M down from the level in 2021.[6] This first offer, particularly the proposed CBT threshold, mimicked the league’s economics from 2021.[7] Fast forward to December 1, on the night the CBA was set to expire, league and union members met for a total of 10 minutes before ending the day’s talks.[8] When the clock struck midnight, MLB owners unanimously voted to implement a lockout and called the Players Association’s vision for a new CBA a “threat to the ability of most teams to be competitive” and “not a viable option.”[9] Players responded to the lockout, stating it was "not required by law for any other reason [than to] pressure the players into relinquishing rights and benefits.”[10] The year concluded without any additional meetings between the parties and progress at the start of 2022 seemed to be extremely gradual.


The Tide Begins to Turn


MLB and MLBPA personnel met virtually for the first time in the new year on January 13 but did not resume in person negotiations until January 24, nearly two months after the lockout initiated.[11] The very next day, however, core economic numbers finally entered the parties’ discussions. The players proposed to raise the minimum salary from $570,500 to $750,000 while the league offered an increase to $615,000.[12] A week later, in a 90-minute meeting, the union introduced the idea for a bonus pool for pre-arbitration eligible players, but each side made little movement in determining the CBT thresholds or minimum salary values.[13] On February 3, MLB requested assistance in the bargaining process and asked a federal mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to join the negotiations.[14] Less than 24 hours later, the MLBPA rejected the request and firmly expressed “the clearest path to a fair and timely agreement is to get back to the negotiating table.”[15]


On February 12, MLB submitted a 130-page proposal highlighting slight increases in minimum salary and CBT thresholds, which was met with underwhelming sentiment from the union.[16] In turn, the start date for Spring Training came and passed on February 15; and, three days later, MLB officially cancelled the first week of Spring Training games.[17]


Up to this point, both parties offered little to no compromise to come to an agreement. It was not until the week of February 21 that either side began to actively listen to, and understand, the other’s interests. MLB and the MLBA spent the week in Jupiter, Florida to conduct negotiations, meeting daily to debate CBA terms. Initially, the sides remained far apart regarding the pre-arbitration bonus pool (the players offered $100M while the MLB offered $20M) but the idea for a draft lottery for top first round picks was floated into the conversation.[18] Minimum salary continued to be a key talking point with the players requesting a $775,000 base increasing by $30,000 per year and the MLB offering $640,000 with $10,000 yearly increases.[19] During the fourth straight day in Jupiter, MLB negotiators were reported to have “run out of ideas” heading into the league’s self-imposed February 28 “deadline” to reach an agreement before regular season games were cancelled.[20] Yet, after 16 hours of meetings, the “deadline” was pushed back to March 1st.[21] The parties returned to New York to continue talks, but no deal was reached before the “deadline” and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the first week of regular season games were cancelled.[22]


Let’s Make a Deal


Amidst the negative backlash the game experienced due to Manfred’s cancellations, the parties resumed talks on March 6 and made meaningful progress. The union lowered the pre-arbitration bonus pool to $80M and granted the MLB to implement on-field rule changes with 45 days’ notice.[23] Additionally, the MLB approved three new rule changes to begin in 2023: a pitch clock, larger bases, and a ban on defensive shifts.[24] However, the league announced the new “deadline” to agree to terms was March 8, creating more upheaval within the Players Association. Two days later, the parties met for 17 hours to beat the “deadline” and again failed to do so. The main culprit this time was the discussion around an international draft, an idea eyed by the MLB but resisted by the players.[25]


Ultimately, on March 10, the MLB and MLBPA finally agreed to terms for their new CBA. Highlighted by nearly half a billion dollars awarded to the players across the agreement’s five years, the new CBA comes with a flurry of new changes to baseball’s operations. The CBT threshold will begin at $230M in 2022 and rise to $244M by 2026, minimum salaries will rise from $700,000 to $780,000 by the agreement’s end, the top six picks in the First-Year Player Draft will be determined by lottery, $50M will be allotted for pre-arbitration eligible players, and National League teams can utilize the designated hitter.[26] Despite MLB’s imaginary “deadlines”, the 2022 season will be a complete one. The 162-game season will begin on April 7 but will be extended for three days to account for the negotiating delays.[27]


The journey to arrive at a new CBA was one filled with rollercoaster-like moments and underscored by deadlines, deadlocks, and tension between the parties. The new CBA boasts record raises for younger players, diminishes player service time manipulation, disincentivizes tanking, raises spending limits for teams, and introduces new mechanics for the game’s future. There are a few looming issues that will need to be resolved, like the international draft, but for now one thing is certain: baseball is back in 2022!




References

[1] Fox Sports: MLB, Twitter.com, (March 10, 2022), https://twitter.com/MLBONFOX/status/1502016460326989829.

[2] Jeff Passan, Sources: MLB, union reach tentative agreement on new CBA, salvage 162-game season, ESPN, (March 10, 2022), https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/33470321/sources-mlb-union-reach-tentative-agreement-new-cba-salvage-162-game-season.

[3] Id.

[4] Tim Stebbins, MLB Lockout Timeline: Latest Deadline Pushed Into Wednesday, NBC Chicago, (March 9, 2022), https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/sports/nbcsports/mlb-lockout-timeline-latest-deadline-pushed-into-wednesday/2778862/.

[5] Passan, supra.

[6] Stebbins, supra.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Jeff Passan, Twitter.com, (February 2, 2022), https://twitter.com/JeffPassan/status/1489347138001776646?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1489347138001776646%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nbcsports.com%2Fchicago%2Fcubs%2Fmlb-lockout-owners-wont-make-counteroffer-seek-mediator.

[15] MLBPA Communications, Twitter.com, (February 4, 2022), https://twitter.com/MLBPA_News/status/1489667733083996160.

[16] Stebbins, supra.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Bob Nightengale, MLB’s lockout is mercifully over. Where do we go from here?, USA Today, (March 10, 2022), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2022/03/10/mlb-lockout-ends-labor-agreement-opening-day-fans/6986643001/.

[27] Id.