The MLBPA fighting for the best deal is best for baseball — and the New York Mets. In December, all 30 MLB owners voted unanimously to lock out the players and subsequently prolonged negotiations with lengthy delays and minute concessions.
On the day of MLB’s self-imposed deadline, it has become more and more apparent that the owners are intent on strong-arming the players into an unfair CBA which continues to suppress the earnings of the workers who actually, you know, play the sport. In recent days, reports have also emerged which indicate that negotiations may be particularly influenced by new Mets’ owner Steve Cohen.
Unequal Playing Field
Sure, you can say that it’s just rich guys arguing with rich guys, but this gross oversimplification glosses over a number of crucial issues. For one, the wealth of any single player pales in comparison to the owners. The largest MLB contract ever given out was Mookie Betts‘ 12-year, 365 million dollar deal with the Dodgers. The average MLB club is worth 2.2 billion.
On top of this, the players earning such huge deals are a mere fraction of the MLBPA population. Many players struggle to stick in the big leagues for more than a few years, and these years are ones in which their salary is either a league-wide minimum ($570,500 in 2021) or an arbitrated value partially controlled by the club. All of this after spending years making sub-minimum wage totals in the minors, and having a limited window of earnings. That’s to say, most big leaguers don’t total enough money to be in the same stratosphere as the owners.
“Small Market” Manipulators
In recent days, several reports have referenced a contingent of small-market owners who are being particularly stubborn in negotiations. This may include owners of teams like the Cleveland Guardians, Oakland Athletics, and Pittsburgh Pirates, who have more limited populations and TV contracts compared to a New York or Los Angeles team. In their opinion, at least, there need to be rules in place in order to prevent big market teams from simply signing free agents to massive contracts that other teams cannot afford.
One such regulation is the competitive balance tax (CBT), which has seemingly been the most divisive issue at the negotiating table. Essentially, it is designed to “tax” teams who exceeded a particular salary threshold, in order to discourage the Yankees, for instance, from continually running payrolls of $300 million or more. The problem is that this contingent seems intent on strengthening this tax, such that it functions as a de facto salary cap. Reports have suggested it could involve high monetary and draft pick penalties, which would effectively be greater than any gains from signing additional free agents.
The Cohen Factor
While it has not been confirmed, one theory being floated is that Steve Cohen’s November shopping spree has enhanced small market desires for higher CBT penalties. Cohen and his $11 billion dollar net worth propelled the Mets payroll to a record-high $265 million, and reportedly wasn’t done before the lockout. Allegedly, this has frightened small market owners, who want to ensure Cohen and similar owners are discouraged from building their team on free-agent acquisitions.
As we head into the decisive stage of negotiations, all fans should be rooting for the players they love to get the best CBA possible. Mets fans, in particular, should be hoping for a player-favored deal, particularly one that keeps the competitive balance tax from becoming a salary cap. If the owners have their way, not only would Cohen’s future spending be hampered, but the organization could face draft pick or other penalties as soon as this year.
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