MLB CBA: What Royals Fans Should Look For

Unless you’ve been living off the grid you are aware of the collective bargaining trouble that has been suffered by the NBA, and to a lesser extent the NFL. Major League Baseball’s agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association expires December 11th, 2011. I was going to wait until later in the fall to write this article, but I saw a blog post by Ken Rosenthal at that seems to indicate if I wait any longer it will be a moot point. A quick end to potential labor trouble is always good. Especially for a sport that has come a long way from it’s 1994 Strike, but still feels some lingering effects. You will still find people who refuse to give MLB any of their attention because of it. What I want to do for the duration of this article is highlight some of the issues that are being discussed in these negotiations. Then opine on what we as Royals fans should want to happen to give our team the best chance win. Do not confuse that with the best chance to make money.

Luxury Tax: The Luxury Tax does not extend beyond this CBA. The Luxury Tax will be extended, but it also have to me negotiated which means there might be some changes. You can debate whether Dayton Moore spends the money he does get wisely. But you can’t debate that the Luxury Tax has not helped the small market teams in MLB. I don’t think MLB’s revenue distribution system is as good as the NFL’s. However, neither side seems to be willing to push the issue in that direction so I’ll be happy with the status quo of the current Luxury Tax.

Moving a Team to the American League: Right now there are 16 teams in the National League, and 14 in the American League. Moving an NL team to the AL does make some sense in that you’d have more balance among the leagues and divisions. Reportedly a condition of approving Jim Crane as the new owner of the Astros is that the Astros would move the AL West. If I’m an Astros fan I hate this. That means the number of times my team starts at 9pm on their west coast road swing just doubled. An interesting thing about the schedule is that there would be at least one interleague series being played at all times. You can only pair up 14 teams into 7 series, not 15. This move would not take place until 2013.

As a Royals fan I’m indifferent to this. Yes, the 2011 Astros would make the Royals schedule easier. However, this Astros team is only 6 years removed from a World Series appearance.

Expanded Playoffs: Tied to moving the Astros to the AL is an expanded Wild Card. This is designed to put more emphasis on winning the division. The three division winners would be locked into the playoffs as they are now. Under the new format there would be two Wild Card teams in each league. There would be a one game Wild Card playoff and the winner would then move to the Division Series. Anything can happen in one game. If you plan on making a World Series run it’s best to win the division. Like the Astros move to the AL this would not happen until 2013.

As a Royals fan I think I like this. It would give the Royals more opportunity to get into the playoffs. However, I still prefer they win the division. I’m not sure I like it as a baseball fan in general. Hinging an entire season on game seems silly, but so does determining home field in the World Series by an exhibition game.

International Player Draft: There has been some discussion about this in the negotiations. It seems not to be a big deal for either side. If I were an owner I would be pushing for this. As a Royals fan I’m in huge favor of an International Draft. Right now signing international players is just like free agency which the Royals will never win. The Royals did sign Noel Arguelles. That’s just one battle. Don’t think the Royals will ever win that war. If an international draft were established so could a uniform process for teams to establish true identities and immigration status for the players involved.

Hard Slotting in the Amateur Draft: Currently MLB has “recommended” slot money for teams to follow in the Amateur Draft. However, not many teams follow the “recommendation”. Under the proposed “hard cap” teams would not negotiate with the draft picks. Teams would have no choice but to offer slot money. But unlike the NBA, NHL & NFL, an MLB draftee has several options including going to college to improve their draft stock, or sign with an Independent League and re-enter the draft a year later.

As a Royals fan I’m usually supportive of issues that will help level the playing field with larger market teams. However, in this case I do not think hard slotting would benefit the Royals. Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball popularized the term “market inefficiency”. The Royals found a “market inefficiency” in the draft by taking good players who fell to lower rounds because other teams were afraid of their contract demands. That’s how their farm system improved faster than others. The Royals aren’t afraid to spend money in the draft, and at last check the Royals have spent the most money on draft picks over the last several seasons. This is based on the theory that paying draft picks big money is less expensive than paying free agents big money. This is essentially “The Process”. A hard slotting system takes this market inefficiency away from the Royals. Wil Myers and John Lamb are not in the Royals system right now if there is hard slotting. I would bet Bubba Starling stays at Nebraska in such as system

Hard slotting would save the owners money on unproven players. The MLBPA doesn’t want to represent players not on the 40-Man Roster. I can’t see how this system does not get approved. A lot of how the Royals react will depend in the nuances that are negotiated in such a system.

Trading Draft Picks: I haven’t seen this discussed in my research on the current CBA issues. It is probably not up for discussion. Currently MLB teams cannot use draft picks as compensation in a trade. I think having the ability to trade draft picks would help small market teams like the Royals as it opens up another avenue to get a high priced player that a small market team might not otherwise afford with money or prospects.

Major League Baseball often looks buffoonish when comparing it’s management to other leagues. However, on the subject of labor peace it appears Major League Baseball is leading the way. If this new CBA longer than three years is will mean MLB will have at least 20 years of no work stoppages. None of the other leagues can say that. Despite what some NFL Elitist would like you to believe baseball is relevant. Attendance was up for the 2011 season, and according to estimates Major League Baseball experienced record revenue in 2010. Surely the players and owners can find a away to split $7.2 Billion in revenue? The answer to that question appears to be: Yes! While it’s great that the league as a whole appears to be healthy, what I really want to know is can the Royals thrive during the new agreement.

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