Baseball 101 is an ongoing series from The Good Phight’s Allie Foster that breaks down some of the multifaceted aspects of baseball for those fans who might not be as familiar with the ins and outs of the game. In this seventh edition, she explains the Collective Bargaining Agreement and what the players will be asking for going into 2022. You can read other entries here.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA, is an agreement between Major League Baseball’s owners and the Players Association that determined the rules and financial structure of the league. The very first CBA was signed in 1968 and the current CBA was agreed upon in 2016. It runs through the 2017-2021 seasons.
Key components and changes to the current CBA include, but are not limited to:
-Four more mandatory off-days during the regular season than in the previous CBA.
-World Series home advantage is given to the team with the best record, NOT the league that wins the All-Star Game.
-15-day Disabled List (recently re-named to the Injured List) reduced to 10 days.
-Players have ten days to accept or reject a qualifying offer, and teams are no longer allowed to give a player a qualifying offer if he has already received one in his career.
-A plan to play international series, including games in Mexico, Asia, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and London.
-In-season drug tests increased from 3,200 to 4,800.
-A smokeless tobacco ban.
As previously stated, this CBA expires after the 2021 season, which means the owners and players will need to come to an agreement again before the start of the 2022 season. This may seem like it’s far away, but the players are already gearing up for a big fight when these talks begin.
The main topics of concern for the players during the 2022 CBA discussion are going to revolve around salary and free agency. For two years in a row, the free agency market has been brutal for the players. It’s easy to look at Manny Machado’s $300 million and Bryce Harper’s $330 million deals, or even Mike Trout’s record-breaking $430 million extension and wonder why players are concerned about how much money they’re making. But these three top-level, superstar players are the exception, not the rule. Most players aren’t coming anywhere close to those contract numbers, and those who do have to wait a ridiculously long amount of time to get there. Machado and Harper didn’t sign their contracts until after Spring Training had already begun. Even now, top-caliber pitchers Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel still haven’t been signed and the season is in its second full month of play.
In 2018, total player salary was just under $4 billion, with the league average per team right around $140 million. The Luxury Tax was set at $197 million and only two teams, the Nationals and the Red Sox, were over that threshold. That seems like a lot of money, right? When you break it down, that league average divided by a 40-man roster comes out to only about $3.5 million per player. With many players making well over five times as much as the average, the lower end of the salaries ended up practically insignificant to the overall total. Meanwhile, the baseball industry made over $10 billion in revenue for the year, more than 2.5 times as much as the players made.
That’s not to mention the issue with salary at the minor league level, where some players are barely able to afford housing and have to work extra jobs during the off-season just to make ends meet.
The other main concern for the players is the current ability – or inability – to get to the free agency market. In their first three seasons, players earn right around the league minimum. In 2019 that minimum is $535k. The next three seasons are usually determined by arbitration, unless the player comes to a contract extension agreement with their team. After six years in the league, players are finally able to reach free agency. For some players, teams even take advantage of a loophole in the system by sending them to the minors for the first month of their rookie season in order to secure their rights for an additional year. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the most recent victim of this loophole, but other stars like Kris Bryant have also been affected. By the time they reach free agency six or seven years into their career, they’re greeted by a free agency market that scoffs at players their age. You want a long-term, high-value contract at age 27? Good luck. Unless they’re Machado, Harper or Trout, how can players get the money they want in this situation? The answer, to the players, is simple: They want arbitration after two years and free agency after five so they can get to free agency quicker. They also want the league’s minimum salary to be raised.
What the players want isn’t going to come easily to them, though. In order to get what they want, they are going to have to make some concessions. It’s called an agreement for a reason.
Major League Baseball and the Players Association recently announced that they have already agreed on multiple changes to the current CBA, and will begin discussions for the next CBA earlier than expected. Depending on how these discussions go, they may come to an agreement on an extension before they get to 2021. If not, the players are ready to fight for what they think is right.