It has been less than a year since the labor strife in baseball ended.
The Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball Players Association finalized a collective bargaining agreement on March 19. That came after owners locked the players out for 99 days.
The CBA stretches through 2026. Thus, it would seem the sport should have some labor peace for at least a few more years.
However, storm clouds are already forming on the horizon because of the player payroll disparity among MLB’s 30 teams.
The New York Mets are projected to have a $336-million payroll at the start of the upcoming season, which would be the largest in baseball history. Conversely, the Athletics’ payroll is expected to be $40 million as there is uncertainty concerning whether the franchise will remain in Oakland or move to Las Vegas.
In simple mathematical terms, the Mets’ payroll will be more than eight times higher than that of the Athletics.
In addition to the Mets, six more teams are expected to have payrolls of at least $200 million: New York Yankees ($267 million), Philadelphia Phillies ($231 million), San Diego Padres ($219 million), Los Angeles Dodgers ($217), Toronto Blue Jays ($206 million) and Los Angeles Angels ($202 million).
The Athletics are among nine teams expected to have payrolls under $100 million: Baltimore Orioles ($50 million), Pittsburgh Pirates ($60 million), Tampa Bay Rays ($64 million), Cincinnati Reds ($70 million), Cleveland Guardians ($75 million), Kansas City Royals ($77 million), Washington Nationals ($77 million) and Miami Marlins ($81 million).
Commissioner Rob Manfred believes payroll disparity is among the sport’s biggest problems and has formed a committee comprised of team owners to study the matter. Yet the last CBA did little to address the matter beyond changing luxury tax thresholds.
Manfred believes MLB needed to be a “more national product.”
“When I talk about a more national product, sort of the thought there is that a more national product produces more centrally shared revenue, which, in turn, we hope, would reduce payroll disparities,” Manfred said. “At various times, we have talked and proposed, including in the last round (of collective bargaining talks), about direct payroll regulation, in addition to that, having a minimum payroll.
“We remain open to those sorts of solutions. Obviously, we’re a long way from the next round of bargaining, but there are ways to get at it.”
In other words, without saying it directly, Manfred wants a salary cap as part of the next CBA.
The owners have tried to install a salary cap for more than 30 years and they are part of the economic structures of the NFL, NBA and NHL. However, the MLBPA wants no part of a cap and any talk about a system of that system have constantly been a non-starter in negotiations.
Not surprisingly, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark shot down the idea of a salary cap out of hand last weekend while meeting with reporters at the union’s new satellite office in Phoenix.
“The question that should be asked in regards to one team’s payroll versus another, is whether or not that team is making a conscious decision to have its payroll there, or whether it has the ability to increase its payroll,” Clark said. “The answer is the latter, not the former.”
The lockout that ended last year was MLB’s first work stoppage since the 1994-95 strike. While it is still early, the game seems headed for another shutdown by the end of the decade.