Is your head spinning trying to figure out what’s going on in Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations between MLB and its players association? Do your eyes glaze over when you try to pick through all the technical language?
We have the solution. Here’s a glossary of terms baseball fans need to know to make sense of the lockout, including context from this week’s negotiations:
Lockout vs. strike
Both are work stoppages, but a lockout is initiated by the league, and a strike is held by the. Both are used for leverage in negotiations. MLB’s last work stoppage began in August 1994. The strike lasted 232 days.
This time around, the owners chose to initiate a lockout on Dec. 2, as the last CBA expired. The lockout is expected to remain in place until MLB and its players union reach an agreement on a new CBA.
Competitive Balance Tax
Also referred to as the luxury tax, the CBT amounts to a soft salary cap. If a club’s payroll is over the threshold, it pays a “tax” on every extra dollar, with higher penalties for spending above the threshold for consecutive seasons.
The threshold and the penalties for exceeding it are up for debate in these CBA talks. The players union, which has long made it clear that a hard cap is a non-starter, wants a higher CBT threshold (reportedly proposing an increase from $210 million to $240 million) and lower penalties. The owners want the opposite, back in August even proposing lowering the threshold in exchange for a $100 million salary floor, according to The Athletic. That proposal did not gain traction.
Read anything on the labor talks this month, and you’ll likely come across the term “arbitration.” The MLBPA has included earlier arbitration in their proposals as a way to potentially get younger players paid more.
As it currently stands, once a player reaches three years (with one exception – see “Super Two” below) of service time (see definition below), the player gets to argue his worth through a process called arbitration. This process applies to all players who have accrued between three and six years of service time except those who already have a contract for the next season in place through a contract extension.
Arbitration-eligible players and their teams have until a deadline – usually in mid-January, but the lockout has pushed back arbitration – to either agree on a salary figure or set a hearing. If the two parties still have not come to an agreement by the hearing, a panel of arbitrators decides between the player’s and the team’s figures.
Chicago baseball fans have probably most often heard of service time in the context of “service time manipulation,” especially regarding Kris Bryant’s rookie season. But how exactly is service time calculated?
Every day a player spends on the active roster or the major-league injured list counts as a day of service time. When a player hits 172 days in a given year, he’s credited with a year of service time.
There are typically 187 days in an MLB season, so that’s where service time manipulation comes into play. If a team leaves a player in the minor leagues long enough to ensure he doesn’t reach 172 days on the active roster, it pushes back the clock on arbitration and free agency another year.
Service time manipulation, however, is really hard to prove. Bryant accumulated 171 days of service time in 2015, suspiciously just under the one-year mark, but he still lost his grievance against the team.
Service time manipulation has reportedly been a topic of conversation in this round of collective bargaining, but the sides have not set a resolution.
Usually, players need three years of service time to become arbitration eligible, but there is an exception. Among players who have accrued between two and three years of service time, the top 22 percent in service time receive the Super Two designation. Super Twos become arbitration eligible early.
On Tuesday, MLB reportedly withdrew its proposal to eliminate the Super Two designation.
Pre-arbitration bonus pool
CBA negotiations have reportedly unearthed common ground on the subject of a bonus pool for players who have not yet reached arbitration. But don’t get too excited. How much money goes into that pool is up for plenty of debate. The players association suggested a pool of $105 million. The owners countered with a fraction of the MLBPA’s proposal, $10 million.
Whether the minimum salary should increase is not a question in these CBA talks. The question is how much it should increase. The minimum salary in 2021 was $570,500. The players proposed a $775,000 minimum for first-year players, according to multiple reports. The owners this week suggested $615,000, an increase from their earlier offer of $600,000.
Once a topic in negotiations, the players association withdrew a proposal that would have sped up the path to free agency for some players, according to multiple reports.
Under the most recent CBA, players reached free agency after six years of service time. The MLBPA suggested a system that would allow players who surpassed a set age threshold to hit free agency with five years of service time. It was a non-starter for the owners, and the players conceded it in this week’s negations.