The scheduled start of spring training is a week away, yet owners continue to lock out the players with the sides unable to settle on a new collective bargaining agreement. The parties are talking, but progress has been slow. Very slow.
One of those in the room during negotiations is 36-year-old free-agent reliever Andrew Miller, one of eight players on the executive board of the MLBPA.
Late last week, Miller agreed to answer questions about the negotiations, though without going into much detail about specific proposals that are on the table.
Where do things stand?
We're in a lockout, which we don't have to be. The owners have decided to use that as a form of leverage against us. We aren't allowed in the facilities or can communicate [with coaches], so the lockout is a separate story but we are negotiating [re CBA]. Nobody has taken the ball and run home. Ideally, we get to a deal, but that portion [the lockout] of the situation is controlled by ownership.
Our CBA is up. In some ways, a lot of it is financial but we feel like we've been screaming this from the top of the rooftop, we have major concerns about the competition throughout the league. Tanking has become far too common of a term. There are all sorts of pieces. There's major topics fans will understand and things are kind of behind the scenes. There are a lot of moving pieces.
Why reject the mediation offer made by MLB last week?
That's a complicated one. The reasoning though is because we don't think it speeds up the process at all, history tells us in our sport it hasn't been favorable to reaching a deal and our staff and outside council guide us on things like this. That is what they are for. Our position is that it is quite the opposite from negotiating and being ready to negotiate. We are there and our proposals and desire to meet at the table show that. The league is refusing to counter, the league is the side that has stalled and not been willing or ready to meet.
What's it like in the negotiating room?
It's all over the place. It can get hot because we're passionate about this. I'm passionate about finding a way to address the issues, and I'm passionate about the sport. If that means someone raises their voice or uses a word that is four letters long, so be it. But ultimately we're meeting, we're talking. Sometimes it's prettier than others.
Obviously, things are going slow. What isn't the league hearing you on?
They've heard us on everything. Nothing discussed with them should be a surprise. Since the last couple of CBAs, we've seen changes in the way the league is operated, how the markets have worked and it's something that we have publicly been very forward about, it needs addressing. The time to do that is through collective bargaining.
For example, service-time manipulation has come to the forefront. This hyper efficiency of teams trying to maximize everything instead of putting the best team on the field for the fans is a problem. It's affecting a handful of players, but it's not right for them to be manipulated.
And there have been rebuilds in the past but the cycles were much shorter. Teams are announcing it now, telling their fans that we're not going to compete because we've all come to the realization that draft picks are valuable.
You've said you want improvement for players across the board. The league believes they have addressed that in their proposals. Have they?
I'm not going to dive too much into this but I would say, as we've seen a lot of what they brought to us, it doesn't necessarily have the teeth that it needs to have to have the true effect that even they say they're trying to accomplish. And the devil tends to be in the details. We have smart people guiding us but these things are very complicated.
Fans will sometimes ask, what's wrong with the NBA or NHL system which includes a salary cap and a sharing of revenues?
Talk to players in those leagues and see how it works out for them. It's not some magic bullet that eliminates any disagreements with players and their leagues. If anything, it adds to it. Plus there's an argument on what constitutes revenue.
Our union has felt it's not the system that's best for us. It's pointed at a way to create parity, but we've seen plenty of different teams in baseball win it or be successful. There's other ways to get the market to work in ways that everyone can be happy with.
But without a salary floor, teams may not spend because they're able to win without doing so. As you just said, different teams have been successful, both with high and lower payrolls, like the Rays.
The Rays have won but we're not necessarily happy with the way that they have always operated. They are large recipients of revenue sharing and the way they use that money, is that best for baseball? This is what we debate. Both sides have their experts and we all debate.
Are you encouraged by some of the things that would be new to this agreement like an NBA style draft or that pre-arbitration pool the league agreed to in principle?
There are things that we're in the same neighborhood on, and it's a matter of fine-tuning and there are things we're far apart on. I believe there are creative solutions that can work for both sides. There are many things that are mutually beneficial. It's a matter of finding a way for both sides to agree on it.
Is it realistic to see the minimum salary and the CBT (Competitive Balance Tax) raised significantly?
Why wouldn't they? We see the amount of money coming into the league, particularly with these TV deals, that's great. What the CBT was initially designed to do, it's not working that way anymore. The draft pick penalty, for example, almost seems more punitive than the financial side of exceeding the luxury tax.
It's not that long ago when free-agent markets stalled and died. And players and agents heard it, 'certain teams won't go over [the tax] this year. They only have so much money because they're this far away from it.'
That wasn't the intention of it. The intention of it was to reign in runaway [spending] teams not to be used as a de facto salary cap. We have proposals on how to do that.
Did you take the proposal to address service time manipulation as 'great, let's reward teams for doing the right thing?' Some of your colleagues did.
It's complicated. Creativity is great. And I don't know that it can't be a piece of the puzzle but that needs to be addressed. The Kris Bryant situation was so obvious. That's something that's bad for everyone. That was bad for sport. Everyone knows it. It's unfortunate we have to come up with ways to prevent that and it goes back to that hyper efficiency. We've seen teams telegraph their moves.
And to affect a player like Kris, like that, and be so blatant about it and so blatant to your fans, we feel like it has to be addressed in this. This is one of those things that should be mutually beneficial.
That one is a sore subject for me. The ability to abuse a player's career for your own benefit is why we have collective bargaining for, to address these things.