MLB Budges on CBT, Players Still Concerned About ‘Strings Attached’

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are holding a lengthy series of negotiations Tuesday in an attempt to stave off further cancelations and possibly still hold a full season. While MLB can’t unilaterally impose a schedule or decide not to pay players for the full season, the league has repeatedly threatened to do so with fake deadlines.

The competitive balance tax threshold remains the biggest hurdle to a deal, with owners remaining well below what the union has proposed. The latest proposal from the league would start at $230 million and scale up to $242 million over the course of the agreement, though that latter number is a mere $4 million above the union’s preferred starting point. Even more problematic are the strings attached to the proposal, per Evan Drellich.

Exactly what those strings are isn’t known just yet, but Drellich later added that the league wants to add an additional surcharge level to the luxury tax. The inimitable Russell Dorsey hears that the owners are also tying draft pick compensation and an international draft to the higher threshold, but those may be separate issues. As Drellich tweeted, owners want to implement said draft in exchange for the elimination of the qualifying offer system.

That is in addition to previous asks that included a 45-day notice on all rules changes rather than one year, something the players had already agreed to on a more limited basis (pitch clock, larger bases, banning the shift).

Dorsey also reported that the owners were willing to up the pre-arbitration bonus pool to $50 million (it might actually be $40M based on other reports), double their previous proposal, in exchange for a 14-team playoff format. The union has shown willingness to agree to 14 teams, but under the condition that the two division winners in the opening round would be granted “ghost wins” as a reward for their regular season success.

The increase in the bonus pool, then, is ostensibly an attempt to buy the players out of their position. But seeing as how it’s still $35 million below the union’s already-lowered request, it’s hard to see things working out sans additional pool money.

Let’s circle back to the postseason format for a bit since it’s something you may have missed in earlier conversations, specifically back when it was first rumored that the two sides had already agreed to it. Seven teams from each league would qualify for the playoffs, meaning the No. 1 seed gets a bye. The two division winners would pick their opponents and the remaining teams would play each other for a chance to face the top seed.

The union proposed granting a win to each of the two division champs, thereby providing them an advantage in a format that allows nearly half the league to keep playing past Game 162. The owners have balked at that like Andy Pettitte‘s pickoff move because it would mean fewer potential broadcasts, which is antithetical to the league’s goal of generating as much revenue as possible from postseason rights fees.

Speaking of which, it was announced Tuesday that MLB has a deal with Apple to host exclusive “Friday Night Baseball” doubleheaders all season. These games will air only on Apple TV+ and will not be available on either or the participating teams’ regional sports networks, meaning the league has to be getting a pretty penny for the rights.

The timing was less than ideal for the league, which would have sat on the news until after a CBA agreement had Apple not let the cat out of the bag. That’s likely not the only deal that will be announced in the coming days or weeks either, as MLB still has yet to formalize a new home for the midweek non-exclusive games ESPN dropped after last season.

Apple had initially been named as a suitor prior to the exclusive rights for those Friday games, so now the attention has turned to NBC. Andrew Marchand reported for the New York Post that the plan is to put the midweek contests on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, in a deal expected to net MLB around $100-150 million.

It’s not great for leverage and claims of revenue difficulties when new broadcast deals are being announced left and right, kind of like the publication of the Braves’ financials. But where plenty of folks managed to mansplain the lucrative nature of MLB ownership with mental gymnastics Simone Biles would find impressive, it’s much more difficult to brush aside the terrible optics of canceling games at the same time the league is announcing it’s getting paid more money to play them.

The two sides are still hashing things out as of this piece’s publication, so I’ll do my best to update it if anything breaks soon.

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