NBC 7's Derek Togerson shares some ideas on how to end MLB's lockout in this commentary
Major League Baseball’s lockout is probably not going to end anytime soon. These things never do.
What’s infuriating is it doesn’t have to be this way. There is plenty of money to go around, as evidenced by attendance when stadiums could open up again, TV numbers for the playoffs, and the gigantic contracts handed out just before the lockout happened.
There should be some easy ways to resolve the issues that have led to a work stoppage. Problem is, there is also a long and bitter history of negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association so trust is not exactly abundant here.
Don’t worry. I’ve come to help. There are three major sticking points that are causing serious issues: expanded playoffs, luxury tax numbers, and service time.
Let’s start with an expanded post-season. Why this is a thing, I have no idea because I refuse to believe that more teams being able to win the World Series is a bad thing for anyone. The big picture here comes from revenue sharing and one of the few places MLB can truly have an NFL-style system from a national TV deal.
MLB wants to expand to a 14-team playoff. The club with the best record in each league gets a 1st round bye while the remaining six teams, two division champs and the four best remaining records, square off in a trio of best-of-three series at the higher seeds ballpark. I like this concept for a multitude of reasons.
Let’s use the current TBS contract as a barometer. Turner gave MLB $535 million a year to broadcast one Wild Card game, two division series and one league championship series. That’s a minimum of 11 games and a maximum of 18 games.
Expanding the playoffs to 14 teams adds six Wild Card series, which is a minimum of 12 games and a max of 18 (we’ll call it 10 minimum because there are two existing WC games already). The league could get another $500 million a season by adding those playoff games because, while the Wild Card round is not as big a deal as the LCS, there are a whole lot more markets involved and the number of eyes on the games from across the country will be extensive, especially because it would put superstars like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the playoff spotlight.
Across baseball, tickets to a Wild Card game average about $100 a seat. In a stadium like Petco Park, where 43,000 people can pack in, that’s $4.3 million for one game, or $8.6 million guaranteed for two. Places like New York and Boston are much more expensive while spots like Texas and Miami would be a little cheaper.
Let’s add a very conservative estimate of each person there spending $20 on concessions and you’re looking at about $10 million a series at the gate for a total of $60 million, and that’s if all six of them are sweeps. It could grow to $100 million if all the series need three games but let’s say it’s closer to around $75 million per year spent at the stadiums for an expanded Wild Card round.
So, throw all that into a pool and you’re talking about another $575 million a year in revenue, at least, JUST FROM ADDING FOUR PLAYOFF TEAMS. This is simple: split that up with 60% going to the owners (who have to pay for the staff at the extra games) and 40% to the players. That’s $345 million to the league and $230 million in a pool to the MLBPA.
The league keeps $45 million for program like RBI and other charitable causes and sends $10 million off to each team. The MLBPA can give all 364 players in the post-season a cut of $631,000, or use it for pensions, or pay minor leaguers more, or whatever else it wants to do.
Remember, this is all just from expanding ONE PLAYOFF ROUND. If they do something similar with the entirety of the playoffs and add the ESPN and FOX money then you have the basis for billions of dollars to be spread evenly across the owners and the players.
Up next, the luxury tax (or as they call it the Competitive Balance Tax). In 2021 it was set at $210 million, meaning teams pay a penalty for having a payroll that goes above that number for the year. MLB wants it to drop it dramatically while the MLBPA wants an increase. Teams should not be penalized for wanting to spend money on players.
On the other hand, teams like the Yankees shouldn’t be able to throw hundreds of millions more at All-Stars than clubs like the Royals, who don’t generate the same kind of revenue. However, teams also shouldn’t simply mail in the season by spending next to nothing and claim they’re in a rebuild. It’s a practice commonly known as “tanking” and the players see it a big problem.
It’s amazing how many bad owners there are in professional sports. Pittsburgh, Oakland, Colorado … they just can’t seem to figure anything out and they’re quick to cry themselves to the poor house when their teams aren’t very good. Those people need to go, which is why MLB should institute a luxury tax ceiling AND a salary floor.
The league has kicked around the idea of making each club spend at least $100 million with a cap of $180 million. That is far too small a gap to realistically impose, especially since 13 teams are currently below $100 million in payroll.
A floor of $75 million with a ceiling of $225 million, increasing annually by $2.5 million, is reasonable. It gives teams that want to spend the ability to do so and forces owners who have been pocketing profits instead of putting them back into the product (known in San Diego as “Spanosing”) to either start getting competitive or, probably even better for the sport, selling the team to someone who actually wants to try and win a championship. A floor would help trim some of the dead weight in ownership and that’s good for everyone.
Now, let’s talk about service time, which might be the stickiest part of this whole thing.
MLB wants to delay a player’s ability to become a free agent. The MLBPA wants to shorten it. The root here is teams like the A’s developing stars then watching them sign elsewhere when they decide they don’t want to meet the market price. The league wants to keep those guys in sub-par situations longer in the name of “competitive balance,” failing to see that it’s often poor ownership that’s the main culprit.
Right now, a player has three years under the league minimum followed by three years of arbitration before hitting free agency. Teams have manipulated that by limiting young stars in their rookie years so they play what amounts to a full season but their arbitration clock doesn’t start for another season. There are 187 days in the league year and a player has to be on the roster or the Injured List for at least 172 of those days to get a year of service time. Probably most famously, the Cubs kept Kris Bryant in the minors to start his rookie season so he wouldn’t reach 172 days. He won the NL Rookie of the Year award without getting an accrued year, which quite frankly is complete BS.
MLB is asking for an age-based free agency limit. They don’t want free agency to start until hi hits 29.5 years of age, which is stupid. Could you imagine Tatis Jr. not being able for free agency for a decade? That’s no fair to the stars of a league that keeps getting younger. What’s fair to both sides is a hybrid system combining service time and age while also adding a performance element.
In my system, a service year drops from 172 days to 112 days, or 60% of the season. If a team has a top prospect that can help odds are it’s not going to leave him on the farm for almost half the year so that underhanded tactic is basically gone.
Arbitration starts after two years instead of three. Free agency eligibility would begin after year six, or when a player hits 29.5 years of age, whichever comes first … but we’re adding a performance component here.
If a player finishes in the Top-3 of the MVP or Cy Young Award balloting before he hits six years or the age threshold, it shaves a year off his free agency requirements. If a player is named to the All-Star Game in three of his first five years, it shaves a year off his free agency clock. So, the best in the game could conceivably hit the open market after just four seasons.
It’s a way to reward them and, with the new salary floor, it shouldn’t be as difficult for teams to hold onto their young superstars with contracts like Tatis, Acuna, etc. because the fan backlash of losing guys like that so soon would be immense and an upset fan base that stops spending money is one heck of a motivating factor.
There are other, smaller things that need to be ironed out but when you get these three big ones out of the way the rest can be done over lunch. So, Rob and Tony, take this list and get on a virtual call so we can go back to talking about the game of baseball instead of the greed of baseball.
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