The seats on the bus.
For five years now, a narrative has persisted inside baseball: that when Major League Baseball and the Players Association last agreed to a collective bargaining agreement, in 2016, the union was too focused on creature comforts, like luxury bus rides. That the players lost sight of the most important part of bargaining, the core economics.
“These guys were talking about travel getaway days and more meal money, and the union leadership was afraid to talk to them,” one team source said.
But like most matters of labor relations and economics inside baseball, the reality is more complicated. Although there is a camp that maintains the players’ primary shortcoming was a focus on quality-of-life issues, another says that is false.
“Literally before the ink was dry on the 2016 (CBA), I can remember reading the two-seats-on-the-bus narrative,” another industry source said. “That’s total bullshit. It’s total bullshit.”
For those who say the narrative is off, the strongest argument probably lies in the proposals the union actually made to the league in 2016. Among them:
• The elimination of teams surrendering draft picks when signing free agents, which was intended to incentivize teams to bid on players.
• A considerably higher competitive balance tax (or CBT) threshold than, which would have raised the amount of money a team can spend on payroll before being penalized.
• A new formula to determine draft order. Rather than the current system, which is based entirely on win-loss record the year before and rewards the worst team with the best pick, draft position would have been calculated with a 60-40 formula: 60 percent based on record, and 40 percent on other factors, including a club’s market size. This was aimed at reducing tanking.
• Doubling the percentage of players eligible for arbitration after two years of service time — the number of Super Two players. This was a way to get more money to younger players.
• In the same vein, the union also proposed standard bonuses for most players prior to arbitration, and changes to how service time is credited.
• Changes to revenue sharing, meant to address tanking.
A union that had truly lost sight of core economics, one could argue, would not have made those proposals. Yet, at the same time, few of these elements actually made it into the final deal. The CBT was raised, but not as much as the union proposed.