According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the MLBPA recently proposed drastic changes to the structure of the first 18 picks of the MLB draft in the latest round of CBA negotiations. Those 18 picks are the ones awarded to teams that missed the playoffs during the previous year (in a 12-team playoff, which the MLBPA is also proposing). In addition to a proposed lottery system similar to the NBA, the MLBPA proposed penalties on teams that repetitively miss the playoffs and find themselves near the top of the draft, in an effort to discourage teams from continuously fielding non-competitive rosters. It’s a unique proposal that I cannot remember seeing in recent CBA conflicts in major professional sports, but more importantly, it indicates just how committed the MLBPA is to ensuring that all players have the opportunity to play for a competitive franchise.
As I alluded to in my previous article on Stephen Ross, there are multiple MLB franchises that field non-competitive teams with low salary totals year after year in order to keep their balance sheets in the positive without feigning any interest in winning. As I noted, this situation is most prevalent for small-market teams, where low attendance totals and the difficulty of successfully tanking your way into success makes it more financially prudent for some teams to continually underperform as long as they make enough revenue to stay in the black. This, inherently, adversely effects the players of those franchises, both professionally and personally. Not only are these players now perceived as underperformers, but the lack of investment in their performance means they will naturally not reach their full potential, which may cost them millions of dollars in the long run. Further, these are professional athletes who become extremely unsatisfied when those around them (particularly the ones writing their checks) don’t share the same competitive drive that they do. Players who possess the talent and work ethic to make it to the professional level are constantly seeking an edge on their competitors and dream of not only making money but winning championships and reaching the pinnacle of their sport. They want to play in a league where every franchise is interested in doing just that, and not satisfied with mediocrity as long as the money keeps coming in.
This most recent round of negotiations amplifies what we’ve seen in previous proposals by the MLBPA with regards to salary floors, arbitration, service time manipulation, and revenue sharing. The MLBPA, as a clear expression of frustration coming from their constituents that play for these teams, are fed up with trotting themselves out onto the field for owners who have no intention of ever competing for a championship. The popular understanding of this lockout, when viewed from a fan’s perspective, is that it’s a “millionaires vs. billionaires” fight over money. I think this proves it’s not that simple. Of course players want the ability to hit the open market earlier and make more money, thus the emphasis on arbitration and service time in these negotiations. I believe, however, that the drastic changes to the draft process that the MLBPA has proposed shows just how aggravated the players are by the lack of competitive incentive created by the current system and shows how determined they may be to fix it.
The interesting question becomes how united are the owners when it comes to this issue? The players know, having either played for one of these franchises or played with players who have, that they don’t want to find themselves in an organization that has no competitive instinct. Moreover, they see this lockout as the opportunity to finally take a stand on the issue. The owners? Some may side with their fellow owners on the draft, and spin this as actually harming the competitive balance of the league by reducing the opportunities for bad teams to become good teams. Others, however, may already believe that their bottom-dwelling brethren are bad for the business of the league, and may at least be warm to conceding some of these ideas to the players in return for other concessions in the negotiating process.
Michael DiLiello is an Army Officer transitioning to the Sports Law field and will enroll as a 1L in the Fall of 2022. His opinions are purely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the United States Army, the Department of Defense, or any other external agency. Twitter: @Mike_DiLiello LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/michael-diliello-1057b439