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Minor issues masked as big problems ahead of 2016 MLB collective bargaining negotiations

The collective bargaining agreement is set to expire this offseason, with some revisions perhaps looming.

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The MLB’s next collective bargaining agreement has some agents concerned according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, with some calling for “major revisions.”

One of Rosenthal’s sources complained that the current CBA is “replete with provisions that have a practical impact of depressing salaries while cloaked in the delusional belief that it promotes parity.” That is to say, agents find that—under the rules of the current CBA—their players are making less than they are worth under the guise of keeping the league competitive. However, the difference between the good teams and bad teams remains steep.

Quotes like this seems to point toward rules like the luxury tax—a loose salary cap that penalizes teams for spending above, but does not strictly prohibit—there are other rules that come to mind as well.

Rosenthal went on to paraphrase his source, who had trouble understanding the ‘parity’ of the league while teams also:

“Are not penalized for spending under a certain payroll threshold the way they are for spending above one.

Do not always reinvest revenue-sharing money in their own clubs (a concern echoed by some high-revenue owners).

Are incentivized to seek the highest possible draft positions and most pool money.

Gain draft picks for losing elite free agents, regardless of market size or revenues.”

Rosenthal then editorializes his own rebuttles on behalf of the league:

“The owners have proposed "payroll floors" in the past, but the union has resisted, opposing spending limits at both ends and preferring the clubs to police themselves. The union, however, did agree to a luxury tax that serves as a drag on salaries; the agent wants to introduce the same concept to stimulate spending on the low end.

The CBA allows the union to file grievances when it believes teams are not reallocating their revenue-sharing money properly; the Marlins agreed to increase spending in 2010 to avoid a grievance. The union has not filed any complaints during the current agreement.

Rebuilding teams will not necessarily end up with the highest picks in '17. Several clubs accused of "tanking"—the Braves, Phillies, Reds and Brewers—have performed better than expected and/or improved during the course of the season. Other clubs with championship aspirations flopped, including the Twins, Diamondbacks, Angels and Rays.

The owners agreed to the qualifying-offer system as a concession to the union, which wanted to subject fewer players to draft-pick compensation than in the past.”

As for the first point—that the owners have suggested a salary floor—I remain somewhat skeptical. It is unlikely that the owners would have conceded a salary floor without a stricter salary cap at the top end of salaries—a decisive no-no for a union.

Moving on to the third point, while first overall picks are definitely the most coveted, they are by no means the end-all and be-all of rebuilding. From 2010 to 2014, the Cubs were in full rebuild mode, and a relatively uncompetitive team. Not once did they make a first overall pick in the 2011-2015 drafts (they had a second, fourth, sixth, and two ninths) yet that rebuild has been incredibly successful.

In truth, all of this seems to be a small amount of posturing before the actual negotiations begin during the offseason. Agents are paid to represent their clients and the commissioner is hired to represent the owners. Until the negotiations begin, we will be seeing articles like these surface. And, while they show some disputes may come up, they do seem like they would be very civil discussions.

While Rosenthal and his source position these as ‘major disputes’ they aren’t as major as the disputes could be. For instance, there is not much mention of service time or qualifying offers—both of which depress player salaries more than any other part of the game. If these issues were being brought up, fans could be looking toward a less civil CBA negotiation period. Instead, these issues seem easily negotiable.

In all honesty, the MLB is a highly profitable endeavor for both sides at the moment, and the risk of a work stoppage just wouldn’t be worth it at the moment. Even though there might be significant issues in the game—issues that undoubtedly need fixing—expect this labor season to be a quiet one.