Pirate Fans, and Most Players, Should Side With Owners in Current Work Stoppage

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

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There are a lot of complicated matters involved in the current MLB work stoppage.  Work stoppages occur because players and owners agree to a collective bargaining agreement for a finite amount of time. When the current agreement comes to an end, a new one must be agreed upon.  If the players and owners cannot come to terms with a new one before a given deadline, a work stoppage occurs. 

In this case, the prior agreement lapsed, and the December 1st deadline to establish a new agreement was not met.  All major league transactions and team related activities have been frozen.  This is an important distinction because minor league players are not in the MLB Player’s Union, so minor league transactions, team activities, and games can continue as scheduled.

There are several topics on the docket that must be straightened out before the players and owners come to an agreement.  The two that always seem to rise to the top of the list are free agency and a salary cap. 

Free Agency Flaws

The current free agency structure really only favors the mega stars like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.  Under this current structure, to qualify for unrestricted free agency, players must be in the major leagues for six full seasons.  There are stipulations with service time and Super Two rules and what not, but ultimately a player is under team control for six major league seasons. 

The concern from the players is that they are under team control far too long and owners manipulate service time to maximize team control. The owners’ concern is that, without a salary cap, free agency has run amuck, and players are getting half billion-dollar deals.   

As stated above, the current system suits mega stars who enter the league at 20 years old, have six great seasons, and then receive their payday around 26 or 27 years old.  However, these players are in the minority.  Most players are entering their sixth season either at 30 years old or older than 30.

This magic “30 years old” number has become a problem as of late due to the increasing use of analytics in baseball.  Analytics show that the large majority of players begin to decline at the age of 30.   Also, the banning of amphetamines in clubhouses have brought this to light as well.  Players used to stay productive well into their 30’s with the help of amphetamines.  Now, with seemingly even uppers like Red Bulls being banned in MLB clubhouses, players can’t keep up with the rigor of a 162-game season.  At least, analytics would say this for most ballplayers.

With these two factors continuing to shorten most players’ primes, the players are serving under an unfair system.  Baseball players already don’t get large paydays when drafted, at least to the level of the NFL and the NBA.  They, then, are not eligible until after their sixth year for free agency pay days, but those paydays are no longer coming as often because of analytics.  This is not the case for all players, but increasing for the large majority.

Salary Cap Desperately Needed

The remedy for this is to decrease the number of years a player is under team control.  The only way the owners will agree to that, is if a salary cap is put in place.  A salary cap appears to be a non-starter with the MLB Player’s Union.  As was the owner’s proposal to make the free agency system age-based.  The proposal was reportedly that players would become free agents at 29.5 regardless of service time.  This was also a non-starter for the Union and with good reason.  This would minimize the value of a 28 year old player solely because they are older than a 26 year-old player regardless of talent.

However, a salary cap would serve all players better if the owners conceded a year or two of team control.  Unfortunately, the player’s union only seems to want the serve those mega stars talked about earlier. Less years of control would overwhelmingly help the majority of players more than a salary cap would hurt the majority of players. 

With a salary cap comes a salary floor.  So, while there may not be as many Corey Seager type mega-deals, there will be more guys like Bryan Reynolds getting signed long-term to meet the floor.  Also, Reynolds would get this deal earlier because the Pirates would have less years of control over him.  Now, some argue that teams would just throw a little extra money at some players, instead of making big splashes moves, in order to reach that floor.  However, more money being thrown at more players still helps the players in the long run.

A salary cap would also start to level the playing field in Major League Baseball.  Have you ever heard that the Pittsburgh Steelers can’t sign a free agent because they are in a small market?  No.  Teams like the Green Bay Packers could never compete against the New York Giants in a league without a salary cap.  While baseball has a lot of parity, it is only because one or two small market teams trade places in the postseason each year while the same two or three large market teams make it every season.  The parity is misleading.

It also would avoid the embarrassing situations going on in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cleveland right now.  Their payrolls have fallen to absurd levels this offseason.  Cleveland is undergoing an exciting new brand change, but with a payroll under $30 million, who will attend to see it?  A salary floor is just as valuable as a salary cap and Major League Baseball aches for both.

Salary Cap Helps All

In this case, the players have to concede a salary cap.  If they don’t, the system will continue to favor those players in the top 5% of the league instead of the other 95% that never receive their big pay day.  It is time for the players to make a concession and finally have the same system in place as all the other major sports leagues.  For the player’s sake, they should side with the owners, as long as years of control are on the table as well.  Trading a salary cap for years of control is a good deal for the players.