MLBPA appears to be unified in their cause. A threat of an in-season strike by the players would give more leverage to the players at the negotiating table. The owners impose a lockout to avoid a strike. Many fans say it’s a fight between millionaires versus billionaires. That isn’t necessarily true. The majority of players in the Union don’t make a million dollars per year. According to an article written by Travis Sawchik of it was revealed that in 2019 major league baseball players:

A. 63.2% of them had fewer than three years of service time
B. The average service time for a career is 3.71 years
C. The median dollars earned was $558,000, meaning that 50% earn more and 50% earn less

The minimum salary is $580,000 so 50% of the players are earning below the minimum salary. MLBPA is fighting for these players. These players comprise a majority of the union. Every player on the 40-man roster is a union member. MLBPA wants to set the minimum salary at $775,000 and increase it $30,000 in each year of the five-year contract. At the end of the contract, the final minimum salary would be $895,000. MLBPA realized that in the last contract the minimum salary was set for the length of the contract and they didn’t account for inflation. Sawchick has calculated that if inflation was adjusted in the last contract that the minimum salary should therefore start at $650,000 in 2022.

The recent counter offer by the owners wants to set the minimum salary to $640,000 in 2022 and increase it $10,000 each year of the contract. Therefore in 2026, it would be $680,000.

The minimum salary is important for the union because it affects the most members. These members are the majority, 63.2%, and these members have to be satisfied in order for a new contract to be ratified. With a career life span that averages 3.71 years many of the pre- arb players will not reach arbitration, let alone free agency. Many will only earn a minimum salary paycheck in their careers. Like in the movie, Jerry Maguire, they want the owners to “show me the money”. The union listened to these members and crafted their demand accordingly.

According to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, the projected rate of inflation in the United States for the next five years is approximately 2.4% in each year. If a neutral arbitrator would consider these facts, he might suggest a reasonable solution would be $650,000 to start with an increase of $16,000 in each year. Each side of the negotiating team knows these projections. The issue is closer to being settled than it appears now.

There are other issues that concern pre-arb players. The issue of three years to reach arbitration was addressed by the union. They wanted to change it for 100% of players with two-years plus (Super Twos) of service to be arbitration eligible. Previously, only 22% of Super Twos qualified for arbitration. The league said it wasn’t negotiable. The union reduced their demand to 75%. The arbitration eligibility issue is a sticking point for the owners. Tim Dierkes of MLBTR points out that increasing the percentage of Super Two players for arbitration eligibility is very expensive for the owners. For example, Dierkes estimated that if Francisco Lindor went through arbitration four times instead of three, he would have made $14,726,800 more in arbitration. Lindor wasn’t the only example. The owners fear that more future players would cash in like this if arbitration eligibility changed. This was one of the reasons that the league has dug in on this issue. Arbitration eligibility percent for Super Twos was increased in the last contract though. It was 17% and increased to 22%. Maybe the MLBPA can coax them into another 5% increase for the Super Twos and satisfy the pre-arb players.

The owners added a pre-arb bonus pool for the 30 best two plus years players based on WAR (or something similar) and funded it with $20 million so they wouldn’t deal with the arbitration eligibility issue. The union countered with an offer to 150 players and funded with $115 million. If the union can increase the arbitration eligibility then this new offer of pre-arb bonus money from the owners should be acceptable as is and be viewed as a bonus. It would open another door for future contract negotiations. However, the owners might withdraw the offer if arbitration eligibility is increased. A pre-arb pool would be another benefit to pre-arb players.

Another new issue is the options in a season. MLBPA wants to limit teams to four options a year while the owner would rather have five. Right now, there is no limit. Since this is a new clause in the contract and the difference is minimal then the union should acquiesce to show good faith.

Expansion of the playoffs would also be a benefit of the minimum salaried players. For these players there would be more of an opportunity to play in the playoffs to earn the bonus money. This money is a greater percentage of their gross income than a multi-million dollar player’s gross income. This issue of playoff expansion is more complex than bonus money for the individual players. Money made by television revenues for playoff expansion and where it should be appropriated is the issue, not some bonus for individual players.

These issues attest that the MLBPA is fighting for their pre-arb membership that make up the majority of the union.

6 comments on “MLBPA’s fight for pre-arb players

  • LesElkins

    So, now it is not millionaires versus billionaires because half the players only make over half a million. But if the MLBPA gets what they are after, with the increases throughout this contract, then the next contract will be millionaires versus billionaires. Then we can, not feel sympathy for either side. Gotcha!

  • Foxdenizen

    Some of these figures look either outdated or wrong. Inflation has been running north of 7% a year for months now, and the reason causing it such as supply chain delays soaring oil prices and millions of borrowed stimulus dollars are not going away soon. the figure on median MLB salaries being below the minimum salary is baffling, they are from 2019 so maybe they are counting the minor leaguers who make just brief appearances especially in September.

    • Metsense

      Count how many numbers you have. If you have an odd number, divide by 2 and round up to get the position of the median number. If you have an even number, divide by 2. Go to the number in that position and average it with the number in the next higher position to get the median.
      Yes, as I wrote, the players on the 40 man roster are in the union and can vote and they count.
      The inflation projection was researched at different financial sites and the projected future 5 year rate was in the range of 2.1 – 2.6.%. Statista, was most recent data, January 2022.
      I hope this clears up your “baffleness”. My research surprised me also.

  • T.J.

    The labor issues in MLB are nauseating given that this is a business full of revenues. I have issues with both sides, but I will give credit to the player reps, who are battling to some degree for the less wealthy in their union. MLB should be ashamed that their minimum salary is lower that the NHL minimum. Additionally, it should be embarrassed if the $40k/year salary for minor leaguers (not on bonus) is accurate. And, we can all agree that pre-arb guys in the top echelon of performers need a pay increase. That said, the Lindors and Scherzers should realize that the boost in pay for the bottom 60% of guys and the pre-arb studs, some pay will need to shift from the free agent veteran group.

    • Name

      “That said, the Lindors and Scherzers should realize that the boost in pay for the bottom 60% of guys and the pre-arb studs, some pay will need to shift from the free agent veteran group.”

      Well what the players want is for the bottom players to get their pay boosted and for the top guys to still make what they make, because they feel the owners are pocketing too much.

      But it’s the GM/owners who decided that that giving a few players mega contracts was better than spreading the wealth around. If they are all together right now why not “collude” to some extent and tacitly agree that the 200+mil/40mil a year contracts is something they should look to avoid and that way they can still spend the same total amount but the lower end guys can make more.

  • TexasGusCC

    Gene, what an incredible amount of information, thanks! In the beginning of the lockout, I didn’t really care one way or another. But as I saw the owners’ stance towards minor leaguers and pre-arb players while learning of how many new revenue streams will be created, I was pretty upset. I hope Congress can repeal its anti-trust exemption and make them start hemorrhaging in taxes.

    I don’t care where the CBT winds up, but there should be a floor of some type. And while I cannot recall all other areas of concern, I wouldn’t mind expanded playoffs to a point: I don’t like the NBA way of inviting over half the league. I think 14 is too much; 12 sounds better. And both thumbs up to a draft lottery! Put the top eight places open for all non playoff teams. Enough tanking already!

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