NEW YORK – Baseball players maintained unity throughout labor negotiations, yet were divided when it came time to vote on the deal.
The eight-man executive subcommittee that appeared to be most involved in the nearly year-long talks voted 8-0 Thursday against approving the five-year contract. Team player representatives, the overall group supervising negotiations, voted 26-4 in favor, leaving the overall ballot at 26-12 for ratification.
“You call it a division, I call it a healthy dialogue and conversation,” union head Tony Clark said Friday. “From our standpoint, the process worked. Each group and each team, each player, have had an opportunity to engage their team and and voice their particular vote against the backdrop of the other 25 members or 39 members, I guess I should say, of their club.”
MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem and Clark signed a 182-page memorandum of understanding on Thursday incorporating 26 tentative agreements requiring revisions to the Basic Agreement and Major League Rules.
Training camps are opening ahead of a season that will start a week late on April 7 but still preserving a 162-game schedule.
Players on the exco, as it is referred to, are veterans for the most part at the top of the salary scale: Mets pitcher Max Scherzer ($43.3 million this season), Yankees pitchers Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and Zack Britton ($14 million), Texas infielder Marcus Semien ($25 million), Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor ($32 million), Houston catcher Jason Castro ($3.5 million) and free agent pitcher Andrew Miller ($12 million last year).
Britton, Cole, Paxton, Scherzer and Semien are represented by agent Scott Boras, the sport's most influential agent.
Among the 1,670 players who appeared on a major league roster this year, 1,145 earned under $1 million, including 771 below $500,000 and 241 under $100,000.
Those rank-and-file voices came through in the vote by the larger group of 38.
“The individual subcommittee members who were invested from start to finish, who were pushing to make the gains that we all wanted to make, they offered their vote against the backdrop of that democratic system,” Clark said.
The committee differs demographically from the larger player group, with seven of the eight born in the 50 United States and Lindor from Puerto Rico. None were born in Latin American nations and none in Asia.
“Beyond the subcommittee and beyond the player reps, there are discussions with players who have issues or concerns that directly affect them. Those conversations have happened and those player reps and those executive subcommittee members listened as a part of those conversations,” Clark said. “Suffice it to say, we’ve had more meetings than reported. There has been a lot of involvement and a lot of discussion. Every player, no matter where they are from, their concerns have been heard and will continue to be heard."
The agreement raises the luxury tax threshold from $210 million to $230 million this year and $244 million in 2026. The minimum salary goes up from $570,500 to $700,000 this year, with $20,000 annual increases, and a $50 million bonus pool is established for pre-arbitration players.
Teams will be put in a lottery for the top six picks in the amateur draft, and the top two players in Rookie of the Year voting will be credited with a year of major league service, even if in the majors for only a portion of that season.
MLB gained an expansion of the playoffs from 10 teams to 12 and the right to sell ads on uniforms and helmets.
“This was a long, hard labor fight against a powerful adversary committed to maintaining the status quo or making it worse for players,” union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer said, accusing MLB of using “every pressure tactic in the book.”
“Players made significant gains in this agreement. As in any deal, there were some tradeoffs, and we always knew change would be incremental over time,” he said. “It sets up well to build on and continue to make gains in the future.”
Clark said it was too soon to determine whether the deal was successful for the union.
“We’re going to have to see how the next five years manifest themselves," he said. “The metrics that we used in analyzing the system leading up to this negotiation suggested to us the changes that needed to be made and the issues that needed to be addressed. And we looked to address them and did address them at the table. As a result, we'll determine here how the system responds to what we believe the fixes needed to be and address them accordingly at the end of the five-year term.”
Players pushed for the draft lottery as a method to increase competition.
“All of this is a process over time," Meyer said. "Obviously, we wanted more dramatic changes to address those issues. The league resisted us on that. And we don’t expect that problem was going to be completely eliminated, but we’re hopeful that it’s going to be significantly better than it is now.”
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