Deep Thoughts on MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement Negotiations

The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for Major League Baseball  expires on December 1st, 2016.  Early reports indicate that the general framework of the current CBA will remain intact.  However, there are a number of areas that are likely going to be retooled.  Although not much has been released regarding what these areas will include, I am interested to see if and how any of the following concerns will be addressed.

Some areas I will be interested in seeing:

What substances will be tested for, how many times individuals can be tested per season (as well as outside of the season), and what the penalties will be for violations.   The current drug testing program tests for a number of substances already.  Will any new substances be added to the list?  Also, the percentage of players who receive a therapeutic use exemption for the treatment of ADHD (especially using the stimulant based Adderall) is high (about two times the diagnostic rate of ADHD within the general population).  Will therapeutic use exemptions be more closely monitored?  My two cents – allow only non-stimulant ADHD medication for the treatment of ADHD during the season.  Prohibiting stimulant medication to treat ADHD will likely reduce the requests for therapeutic use exemptions.

Concussions continue to be a significant health issue in professional sports.  Concussions were part of the most recent CBA under Attachment 36 (page 240).  Will the new CBA update the policies, procedures, and protections for players in regards to concussions?  Current policy indicates that baseline neurological testing for all players is in place.  A Certified Athletic Trainer evaluation along with the standardized Sports Concussion Assessment Tool -2 (SCAT2) will be used to determine whether a concussion has occurred and clubs need to submit a ‘Return to Play’ form (basically indicating that all symptoms have resolved and functioning has returned to baseline levels).  A 7 day concussion DL provision was put in place and if a player is on it for more than two weeks, they are retroactively transferred to the 15 day DL.  Although these procedures are all positive steps in addressing player safety, it will be interesting to see if any other provisions will be added.

Will there be a provision for ownership and player revenue sharing of future media?  Technology is expanding at an unbelievable rate.  Even if ownership and the players’ union can agree on a financial split regarding the current revenue generators, will there be a provision that accounts for unknown/future streams of income based on technological advances?  This will be tricky for both sides to agree on and if no agreement can be made (or if it is left entirely out of the developing CBA), it will likely limit the length of the CBA that is eventually ratified by both parties.

Will the MLB active roster expand beyond 25 players?  There is talk that active rosters will expand to 26 players.  It will be interesting to see how roster construction is impacted if one additional player is added.  Will the extra man mean an additional bullpen arm, a ‘designated runner’ (i.e. A speedster that can’t hit his weight), an extra utility man/defensive specialist, etc…?

Free agency is always a central topic in the CBA negotiations.  Free Agency in the current CBA (pg 86-91) assigned compensation to a team that loses a “Qualified Free Agent” and a penalty to a team signing the “Qualified Free Agent”.   Although this provision has helped ‘poorer’ teams by giving them a first round pick for losing a top free agent and penalizes teams with less spending restrictions from stockpiling current and future talent (by docking them a pick), a number of players and their agents have complained that the loss of a pick has significant weakened interest in signing players reaching free agency.  It will be interesting to see if the compensation for losing a player or the penalty for signing another team’s free agent are changed or whether the current system will remain in place.

The international player pool has become the ‘wild west’ of baseball.  Although international signing pools have been established, many teams have been willing to go over the allotted amount and suffer a future spending freeze if it means unfettered access to top talent.  There is a lot of buzz about the creation of an international draft.  Although a number of front offices are probably against this occurring as it will negatively impact any significant scouting advantage and negate the advantage of ownership that has a willingness to spend on international players, it is likely that a draft or tighter regulations for international signing will be developed.

On a related topic, the amateur draft may be re-examined (especially recommended slotting salary costs).  The union has a history of selling out amateur and foreign baseball players.  After all, these individuals are not yet part of the Players’ Union.   In order to receive certain concessions from ownership, the Union has been quick to not take on the plight of the amateur and foreign players and push for an agenda that protects their rights or interests.  Will this be the CBA where the interests of amateur and foreign players incorporated (or at least considered)?  Probably not…  Also, although not necessarily reflected in the formal CBA, it will be interesting to see if the medical records of amateur and foreign players are compiled into a general database and if open tryouts similar to the NFL’s ‘combine’ occur.

Domestic violence policy – attachment 27 (pg 224) – referral to Treatment Board but no penalties documented.  It appears as though the major professional sports have taken an approach that allows each governing body the latitude to handle domestic violence incidents on a case by case basis.  It will be interesting to see if Baseball Ownership and the Union can find common ground on this topic and create policy and/or punishment parameters documented within this agreement or if baseball will continue to take these cases on one at a time.  Also, will any documented agreement create a provision for forfeiting salary during a suspension or voiding a contract entirely (probably not).

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