The hot-button issues that will shape impending MLB shutdown

Asia's Tech News Daily

It’s about time to pay the tax on one heck of a Hot Stove League week.

No, no one must pay actual taxes yet on the more than $1 billion that teams have committed to players in a robust free-agent market, although the impetus for this spending spree is approaching fruition: For the first time since 1995, Major League Baseball is set to shut down when the collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners expires at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

While the two sides met Tuesday in the Dallas area and plan to do the same Wednesday, too much work remains to meet the deadline, and as commissioner Rob Manfred put it last month, his side regards a lockout as a maneuver “that moves the process forward.” Rather than extending the deadline and allowing the transactions to continue, the owners believe that turning off the spigot will compel all sides to focus and avoid a bona fide work stoppage that impacts the 2022 season.

If this past week’s activity underlines the industry’s greater fiscal health, the players feel that the power dynamic has shifted too much in their employers’ favor thanks to changes agreed to in at least the past two Basic Agreements and regard these negotiations as a critical opportunity to push back. Here are the primary issues that will take up the most time and require the most compromise to limit this lockout to an offseason skirmish.

Service time

It serves as the root of player compensation, hence its contorting by clubs to postpone players’ free agency and eligibility for salary arbitration. Even the teams acknowledge that service-time manipulation benefits no one, least of all the customers; the challenge comes in solving that amicably. The owners proposed that all players become free agents at age 29 ½, a non-starter as it would disproportionately penalize young stars like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, both 27, even as it would aid someone like Aaron Judge, currently 29 ½ with one more season to go before payday.

mlb, mlb hot stove, mlb players union

Carlos Correa

Getty Images

The players, mindful that most veterans over 30 (the “middle class”) do worse than they once did thanks to teams relying more on analytical and actuarial data, like the idea of all players entering the arbitration portal after two years’ service rather than the current three years plus the “Super Two” (the top 22 percent of two-plus guys). The owners would just as soon abolish the entire arbitration process, given how it pits the player against his team, and find another way to divvy up the bucks.

Competitive integrity

The 2011 CBA created draft pools, by which the worst-performing teams not only drafted the highest but also received the largest budgets to spend on amateur players. That intensified the incentive to punt on seasons (“tank,” as the kids call it) rather than attempt a half-rebuild in which clubs attempted to stay relevant while developing young players. The 2011 season featured three teams that lost 95 or more games, including one passing the 100-loss mark; a decade later, that 95-or-worse figure doubled to six, four of them losing more than 100.

mlb, mlb hot stove, mlb players union

Commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark.

AP

The owners proposed a draft lottery, a la the NBA and NHL, by which the first three spots would be open to any non-playoff team, as well as the notion that a team can’t pick among the top five for three straight years. Those represent good starting points; the players want more dramatic alterations.

Luxury tax

The perennial tug-of-war, all the more meaningful because of how seriously teams (like the 2021 Yankees and Mets) treat it. This issue also pits big-market owners (who want the tax threshold high, if it must exist at all) against their mid- and small-market counterparts, for whom the lower the threshold rests, the better.

Expanded playoffs

The owners want a 14-team arrangement, as first reported last year by The Post’s Joel Sherman. The players likely will be amenable to that as long as suitable rewards are built in for division titles and top seeds (so that teams aim for such privileges by constructing better and pricier rosters).

The universal designated hitter

It would stun if this didn’t emerge from these negotiations. It’s just silly to risk valuable assets like $130-million Met Max Scherzer by asking them to hit and run the bases.

International draft

The teams want it. The players don’t. Here’s betting it falls by the wayside again, as it would be quite the headache to put together.

On-the-field rule changes

The pitch clock. Robo-umps. Shift limits. Such alterations appear potentially crucial to the game’s future in the interest of making the contests more watchable. They barely have been discussed so far. Players are open to conceding on these in return for economic gains. Owners, whose economic gains come when they decide to sell, should be equally open to such horse-trading.

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