Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

MLBPA CBA bargaining playbook strategy leaked


The Athletic got its hands on a huge memo the MLBPA issued to its members, providing guidance and answering questions for the (expected) lockout to occur on 12/1/21.

What’s more interesting to me was the rhetoric that the MLBPA communicated as to its “primary concerns” with the state of baseball right now, and to me it reads like a list of the major demands/strategic positions the union has. We’ve talked at length about all the issues that we think are contention points, but this list prioritizes what the union is after.

Here’s a summary of the 4 main issues the union will be arguing:

  1. Incentivizing Competition. As in, the blatant and open tanking that has been going on. MLBPA wants to change things so that winning is incentivized. Possible solutions here include financial penalties for sustained and purposeful losing (like, loss of revenue sharing dollars), draft pick compensation changes, and salary floors. None of these are going to go over well, especially to the “poorer” owners in the game such as in Kansas City, Pittsburgh etc. that being said, the owners know something is coming, and has already proposed a Salary Floor of $100M. Of course … they also included a salary ceiling thats at least $40M lower than current, which is ridiculous.
  2. Ensuring the most talented players are on the field. This is a direct attack on service time manipulation, and clearly the Union has had it. I don’t blame them: when Kris Bryant was blatantly kept in the minors for two weeks simply to gain an additional year of service, and the grievance went nowhere, the Union knew it had to demand changes. Our own Nats have done something similar in the past with Super-2 considerations, though not as blatantly as some teams (ahem, Tampa Bay, who kept Wander Franco in the minors well into the summer this year). The solution here is pretty simple, and has already been proposed by the owners in one form: a standardized age for reaching free agency, which removes any and all incentives for teams to keep their best players in the minors. The challenge will be figuring out what that age is; to me age 29.5 is too old. My suggestion would be a flat number of years of control based on the age of the player at signing, which basically turns into age 28 for all players. If the player is 16 at age of signing, 12 years before FA. If player is a HS player who has not turned 19, then 10 years. If the player is 19 or a juco signing, then 9 years, and if the player has turned 21 or is from a 4-yr program then 8 years.
  3. Reducing artificial restraints on competition. This is a direct attack on the luxury tax threshold, which has basically turned into a salary cap, even for teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox, which is patently ridiculous. But it also talks about the concept of draft pick compensation, saying that it gives teams a “convenient excuse” to not compete. I can’t help but agree; Scott Boras said it well and accurately when he claimed that the value of draft picks has led to half the league tanking. The challenge here is this: the players never should have allowed the cap, and now they’ll never be able to get rid of it. Clubs are disingenuous with their finances (except for the publicly traded teams like Atlanta, who display for the world how much money they’re not spending on payroll as compared to what they’re making), so we’ll never be able to get to a revenue split like what NHL/NBA has. The Solution won’t be easy: I think the players should get a flat rate of revenues, which is accomplished through both a floor and a ceiling. I like the idea of having what the NBA has in the Larry Bird exemption, allowing teams to go over the cap to re-sign their own players; that would really do much for this issue. I think teams should be inventivized to keep their home grown players; if we had Larry Bird exemption we might still have Rendon and Harper.
  4. Getting players their value earlier in their career. This one is easy; when you have pre-arb players winning MVPs and getting paid 1/50th of their value, something is fundamentally wrong with the system. MLB has already proposed going to a WAR-driven system, which is a start. I’m not sure what the solution here is; if Mike Trout has a 9-war season at age 23, do you pay him $50M the next year? What happens if he gets hurt and misses the entire season? do you pay him $0 the next year? The other challenge with using f-WAR is that it is drastically different in evaluating pitchers than bWAR or WARP; is that fair to non-strikeout guys?

Notably not mentioned here are other issues we know are floating around, such as:

  • International Draft
  • Qualifying Offers
  • Revenue Sharing
  • Arbitration system mods (other than wanting more money of course)
  • Draft signing bonuses
  • International signing bonuses
  • anything having to do with minor leaguers (of course; they’re not union members)

So, look for the players to “give” on these issues to get progress above. This is what really scares me; if the players give up an international draft (which the owners desperately want), what happens to the pipeline of international players?

We’re in for a long winter.

Written by Todd Boss

November 24th, 2021 at 3:43 pm

13 Responses to 'MLBPA CBA bargaining playbook strategy leaked'

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  1. Hey Todd. Where’s the picture?
    I think #2 is spot on, every word on that is perfect. The big fight will be over the age, 29.5 is ridiculously high. If it is 28 then that’s great for us and the Nats since it means Soto is here for an extra year.

    The other leagues have a better sense of gaps between salary floor and ceiling.

    Mark L

    25 Nov 21 at 11:16 am

  2. I think Todd has said it in the past, and I agree: guys like Soto probably are going to be grandfathered to their original free agent date. It likely will be a “whichever comes first” situation for current major leaguers.


    25 Nov 21 at 6:05 pm

  3. So many of these things are important correctives for the game. But it’s going to be a painful fight within, and wait from us on the outside.

    Tanking has been a huge problem for a long time. Both of the teams in the World Series this year rebuilt in part by tanking. Both were starting #1 overall picks at shortstop. But while some teams tank to reload, others tank because their owners refuse to pay a competitive price.

    As I have noted, the NFL requires teams to spend to within 11% of the league cap. Of course it’s much easier to require that in a league with so much revenue sharing. Now, it would balance a number of the MLB inefficiencies if all the local TV contracts went into a shared fund, but I haven’t heard that mentioned as being on the table. (It would also solve the MASN insanity.)

    I wish they could get a higher floor than $100M, but that’s better than nothing. My feeling is that if the owners can come up with $150M a season, they should sell or move the team. They certainly shouldn’t lower the ceiling, although I think Todd is right that Larry Bird exemptions would help. Also, if they’re going to have ceilings, I guess the penalties need to be more severe to keep teams like the Dodgers (with basically unlimited TV money) from pretty much ignoring the line.


    25 Nov 21 at 6:33 pm

  4. If owners “can’t” come up with $150M a season for salary. It’s ridiculous to have some teams spending three and four times less than others.


    25 Nov 21 at 9:34 pm

  5. So, here’s some quick math to show why the Owner’s salary floor/ceiling proposal was incredibly self serving. They proposed 100M floor, 180M cap.

    In 2021, if you added up the overages above $180M for the 9 teams who were above it, they spent $245M total. If you added up teh shortfall for all 7 teams under $100M … it only adds up to $145M. So the owners are proposing a structure that would take away another $100M from the players.


    Todd Boss

    26 Nov 21 at 10:41 am

  6. Here’s an other quick math to show just how ridiculously underpaid the players are.

    If you implemented a $150M floor, and a $200M cap … using the same logic as above, teams are over spending $200M cap by $90M (most of it the Dodgers) … but teams are UNDER spending a $150M floor by an astounding $755 million dollars.

    By way of comparison, in 2019 the league announced $10.7B in revenues. That’s an average of $356M per team. Now, obviously the small market teams are not making that, but a team like Atlanta certainly is (and in fact when their financials were published as a public company, that’s about what they declared) … but Atlatna’s payroll was “only” 157m.

    Todd Boss

    26 Nov 21 at 10:45 am

  7. The Barves won a championship with a low payroll because they tanked, which gave them high-drafted cheap, controlled talent and huge amounts of internal money. But the same could be said of the Trashstros, who had a #1 overall pick at SS and a #2 overall pick (who the Braves passed on for Swanson) at 3B.

    Some would say that the Nats tanked to get Stras, Harper, and Rendon, but we who were here know that it wasn’t intentional. Bowden made truckloads of unconscionably bad personnel decisions, and the Lerners didn’t know enough about baseball yet to realize that they had to spend some money (which was a very bad look at the time of the opening of a publicly financed stadium).


    26 Nov 21 at 9:30 pm

  8. As Todd pretty much just outlined, the biggest issue here isn’t an owners vs. union problem. It’s a problem among the owners. So many of these issues could be smoothed out with revenue sharing. Yeah, the Dodgers and Yankees would lose their grossly unfair TV money advantage (for all the good it has done the pinstripers). But talk to NFL owners, you know, the fellas who mint money no matter how badly their GMs suck (Dan Snyder).

    With revenue sharing, then it’s much easier to require higher payroll floors. Can you imagine how competitive baseball would be if the spending floor was $200M and the cap was $250M? As I’ve noted, the NFL floor/cap numbers are even narrower, only 11% difference. So MLB could do something like $200M floor and $220M ceiling. Total money available for salaries would skyrocket, but it would be spread across all the teams.

    Sadly, this is never going to happen in baseball. Why? Weak commissioner. There’s no Pete Rozelle to show them how to save their sport and turbocharge it. So it’s going to continue to be a miserable mess, and they’re going to allow some teams to keep spending more than $100M less than others.


    26 Nov 21 at 9:46 pm

  9. Revenue sharing in baseball would never happen, because you’d be asking a handful of the richest teams to underwrite the rest of the league. The NFL and NBA put revenue sharing in place basically when the leagues began by negotiating league wide deals … Baseball would have had to have that forethought in the 1900s, during a robber baron time of the country.

    There’s just too much money at stake now. We know very little reliable information on revenues in the league, just that a larger market team like Atlanta made $476M in revenue in 2019, so just imagine what teams in the largest markets of the country (NY, LA, Chi) make. IF you were to smooth that over to prop up all 30 teams … you’d be asking those teams to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars as a gift to owners of teams in podunk cities like Kansas City and Pittsburgh. I just don’t see it.

    Todd Boss

    27 Nov 21 at 8:11 am

  10. As for Atlanta … yes they tanked a while ago and bottomed out in 2015-2016 … but they also were able to really fortify their roster at the trade deadline by taking advantage of other teams “tanking” by dumping assets for pennies on the dollar at the trade deadline. That’s part of it as well.

    Todd Boss

    27 Nov 21 at 8:13 am

  11. Oh, I agree that revenue sharing isn’t going to happen in MLB, at least not right now, but the league is never going to solve many of its core problems until it does.

    You mentioned Kansas City and Pittsburgh. There are two super-healthy NFL franchises in those cities that are regularly in the playoffs, compete for championships, and sell out their stadiums. One of the three or four biggest stars in the league plays for the Chiefs. Every kid in America knows who he is. And every owner in NYC and LA gets to go cha-ching with every Mahomes jersey that sells. It’s the same in the NBA with Milwaukee and Giannis, an international player who was taken in the regular NBA draft. The NHL drafts the same way. I think that Ovechkin fella has turned out OK (after the Caps tanked).

    But no, there’s no Pete Rozelle or David Stern to convince MLB owners to do what’s in their best interests. And so many of the fundamental problems with the league will remain unaddressed. When you leave nearly half the franchises too poor to compete, then there’s going to be perpetual inequity.


    27 Nov 21 at 8:47 am

  12. If revenue sharing is not possible (it’s not), then wouldn’t expanded playoffs be the only other motivator for small market teams? Basically promise a chance to luck in to a championship if everything breaks right against the juggernaughts?


    27 Nov 21 at 12:19 pm

  13. You know I forgot to mention expanded playoffs as a bargaining chip.

    Owners desperately want them b/c playoffs means national TV money. Players … do not get paid for playoffs. If the owners had their way we’d have 2 months of playoffs. So look for that to be thrown in. Also on the table: expansion. Expansion is a tricky topic b/c the remaining cities without teams all present as immediate small market teams, but its a massive amount of buyin money for owners and another 80 jobs for the union.

    Todd Boss

    27 Nov 21 at 1:04 pm

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