As the Major League Baseball lockout continues with no sign of serious negotiations, let’s review some of the main issues and how they might be relevant to the Orioles.
The Major League Baseball Players Association wants to end manipulation of service time, and to get younger players paid earlier.
While most attention is on the huge contracts given to superstars, and they are getting larger, the average salary of players dropped from 2019 to 2021. The average salary is $4.1 million,and the median salary is about $1.15 million.
Because many teams are getting younger, particularly the Orioles, they’re getting paid less. The Players Association wants to see more of that money go to younger players.
The top tier of players has no problem getting long-term contracts, but the second- and third-tier players have found few takers in free agency, especially if they’re over 30.
A player can become a free agent after six seasons. In the Orioles’ case, should the new Collective Bargaining Agreement not change the service time provision, the Orioles could prevent top prospect Adley Rutschman from reaching free agency until after the 2027 season by keeping him in the minor leagues for a short time to begin this season.
The owners have proposed eliminating service time and using age 29 ½ as a free-agent trigger. Players would like to see free agency after five seasons instead of six. That seems unlikely to happen and could hurt the smaller-market teams, specifically the Orioles.
Rutschman would turn 29 ½ during the 2027 season. A 29 ½ trigger would hurt young players, particularly young Latin American players who sign at age 16 and reach the major leagues earlier than American players drafted out of college.
Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto is slated to be a free agent after the 2023 season and could attract the largest contract in baseball history. Soto, who’s 23, won’t turn 29 ½ until early in the 2028 season.
Players are eligible for arbitration after three major league seasons. The top 22 percent of players with the most service time in their second year of major league service are “super twos” and also eligible for arbitration.
Owners have a disdain for arbitration, feeling that it pushes up salaries artificially and creates unnecessary ill will between the club and players.
Clubs trumpet major free-agent signings and often experience a surge in ticket sales after an addition. They get no such boost after a successful arbitration case.
Players would like to reduce the time needed for arbitration to two seasons. It seems unlikely that could happen. The owners would like to replace arbitration with a formula involving WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
Since the Orioles have a young team, a reduction in the years needed to reach arbitration would likely result in more turnover.
The Players Association would like to see more competition among teams. The Orioles have the first choice in the 2022 draft. This will be the fourth consecutive year they’ve chosen within the first five.
The owners have offered a draft lottery, but the players would like something more expansive.
In the NBA’s draft lottery, each non-playoff team is assigned a weight, and while the teams with the worst records have a better chance at the top draft pick, that’s not guaranteed. It’s possible for the team with the best record of the 14 teams not making the playoffs to win the right to draft first.
The union would like a formula based on both the previous season’s won/loss record and market size.
The owners have proposed a minimum payroll of $100 million, which is far above the Orioles’ recent years. But they’ve tied it to a lower luxury-tax threshold.
The players like the idea of a minimum payroll but want higher luxury-tax thresholds to stimulate free agency.
It is appealing for Oriole fans to have a minimum payroll. Free-agent signings and possible extensions of current Orioles are fun to talk about.
Both sides seem to be in relative agreement that expanded playoffs are good. Increased revenues from television coverage of playoff games are positive for both.
It’s unlikely that there will be 16 teams, as they were in the 60-game, 2020 season, but 12 or 14, more than the current 10, seems likely.
It’s possible that in the future a reduction in regular-season games to 154 could be possible to ensure the World Series doesn’t drift into November.
An easier path to the postseason is attractive to Oriole fans, who have seen just six home playoff games since 1997.
What comes next?
At some point, negotiations will begin. If they can come to an agreement by the end of January or the beginning of February, spring training can begin on time. The alternative isn’t attractive.
Some issues won’t be hard to settle. The universal designated hitter seems to be a given, and in this ever-changing Covid environment, health and safety protocols must be agreed on.
New radio partnership: On Wednesday morning, the Orioles announced a multi-year partnership with Hearst’s 98 Rock FM and WBAL NewsRadio AM/FM as the flagship stations of the Orioles Radio Network. The six-year deal will include cross-promotion on WBAL-TV. Beginning in 2022, all 162 regular-season games and select spring training games will be broadcast on Hearst platforms, including 98 Rock (97.9 FM), WBAL NewsRadio AM 1090 and FM 101.5 (and FM 97.9 HD 2). The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network will continue to serve as the team’s home for television broadcasts.