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First Pitch: MLB’s CBA Talks, and the Issue With the International Market

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This Friday marks an important deadline in baseball, as teams need to make the decisions on who to tender for the 2017 season. But Thursday is an even bigger deadline, as that is the day the current Collective Bargaining Agreement ends between MLB’s owners and the MLBPA. So far, the negotiations haven’t progressed much, and they could impact the upcoming winter meetings, as Buster Olney reported today.

Fortunately, Ken Rosenthal had an update later that indicated some progress could be made, with the owners adjusting one of the demands that was holding up the process. That demand was an international draft.

The international market is a difficult situation. The players are against the draft, because it restricts the earning power of those amateur players. We’ll ignore for a second that US-born players are subjected to that same system, and no one seems to care. We’ll also ignore that the players took the opposite stance the last time around and gave up earning power for US amateur players. I think it’s the right move to fight for the earning power of the small guys though, even if it means giving up a bit from the guys at the top — in this year’s case, it would be the guys receiving qualifying offers to restrict their markets.

But while it’s the right move to fight for more earning power, the international system is clearly broken. There are spending restrictions and punishments towards teams, but they don’t really provide much of a restriction. Every year, about ten teams are subjected to the penalties for going over their bonus pools. Ben Badler had a great theory on how to solve this, suggesting that the answer is higher bonus pools.

The current bonus pools are too small, which Badler argues well by pointing out that the 17th pick in the draft had a slot amount higher than half of the international bonus pools in 2016-17. Teams like the Pirates, who get penalized with lower bonus pools due to their success, have only $2 M to spend. There has been a lot of discussion about this, and about whether the Pirates should go over their bonus pool for additional prospects. Part of that argument is that they should sign big bonus guys one year. The flip side to that is they should just sign the lower bonus guys that have worked for them, but sign a lot more of them. But the downside to both is that they’d be spending a lot of money in fines, rather than spending on players.

Badler noted that the Rays went over their bonus pool, spending $11 M total, with $4 M in taxes. The Athletics took the same approach, spending $10 M total, with $3 M in taxes. When a third of your money is going to pay fines, that’s not a good investment. You could look past the fines, and just think that you’re actually paying $6 M for a player, instead of $3 M to the player and $3 M to the league. But that’s another problem. If a player is worth $6 M, then he should get $6 M, rather than getting half that amount and having the other half go to a league making billions of dollars.

The problem with the international market is mostly on the owner side. They are saying that the players are worth much more than the current bonus pools by bidding higher on those players. At the same time, they’re trying to restrict spending by adding penalties and proposing a draft. It’s almost like they realize they have a problem with spending, and they just can’t help themselves, so they try to prevent the spending with either ineffective or extreme penalties. The ineffective approach isn’t working now, and the extreme approach of a draft looks like it would lead to a work stoppage. They might just have to give in, allow the spending, and make it so that teams are paying for players, rather than paying fines.

I don’t think either side wants a work stoppage, especially with MLB making more money than ever, so they’ll find a way to reach an agreement. It seems the owners have taken the first step here by backing off their demand of an international draft. Hopefully at this time next week, the story will be about day one of the winter meetings, rather than a disastrous situation with the CBA talks at a standstill.

**Pirates Reportedly Open to Trading Josh Harrison. This makes sense. If they’re open to discussing Andrew McCutchen, then they should be open to discussing anyone with one or two years remaining on their deals.

**Winter Leagues: Eric Wood Continues to Work on Versatility While in the Dominican. On a related note, the Rule 5 draft is next Thursday.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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