Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement with the players union expires on Thursday, and while (slow, gradual) progress is being made, the owners are still threatening to lock the players out if a deal isn't reached in time.
We've gotten bits and pieces of info as to what might be in the next deal, so here's a recap of what has come out over the past few days that you may have missed during the holiday weekend:
Active rosters could be expanded to 26 players, with September rosters being limited to 28 or 29 players
The union would obviously love adding 30 more jobs to the big league level, and players could also benefit from things like extra days off here and there with the added roster flexibility. An extra roster spot could also give teams more flexibility during the course of a 162-game season. Peter Gammons says some team executives have floated the idea of using the spot for a 6th/spot starter who could be used to skip other guys in the rotation every once and awhile. The spot could also be used to make it easier to carry an Andrew Miller-type reliever who could frequently pitch multiple innings without putting a strain on the rest of the bullpen. Others may use the space for a LOOGY or possibly stash a Rule 5 draft pick without having to worry about being a man short on the bench or bullpen. Needless to say, there's lots of interesting possibilities with that extra roster spot.
In return, the owners are asking for some cost control in September, dropping rosters from that month from 40 down to a more reasonable 28 or 29. While it would mean less players getting MLB paydays for that month, it would prevent September games from becoming an endless slog of pitching changes and pinch-running specialists which makes it a completely different game than the ones being played for the previous five months.
The owners could drop draft pick compensation for losing free agents...if the players agree to an international draft
The qualifying offer system was a pretty blatant attempt by owners to put a clamp on free agency while claiming it was in the interest of competitive balance. The union claims the qualifying offer system cost players $1 billion during the five years it was in place. Getting a draft pick when you lose a free agent is a nice idea in principle, but when the league decided that teams signing free agents would have to forfeit a pick, it had a chilling effect on the market and had guys like Kyle Lohse without a job until the end of spring training. The qualifying offer system was bad from the start, and the owners are willing to throw it out if the players say they'll give in to an international draft -- also under the guise of competitive balance.
Owners don't want to give teenagers contracts worth millions of dollars, and would much rather have that high level of talent in their minor league systems making the same peanuts as everyone else. The players union typically doesn't concern themselves too much with the wages of those who aren't in the union yet, so they may be willing to give in to that demand if it means a more open -- and more lucrative -- MLB free agent market.
Whether or not an international draft would help competitive balance is up for debate. The Twins were able to land Miguel Sano years ago, and the Pirates were the other big contender for his services. The Brewers were willing to give Gilbert Lara $3 million. But with Cuba possibly opening up in the future, this feels like the owners wanting to get ahead of real-world politics and have a plan in place to control the market.
The luxury tax threshold could increase from $189 million to $200 million
This may not seem like a big deal, but it could make traditional big spenders that have been trying to scale back in recent years (like the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox) big players in free agency once again. That could open up markets for guys like Edwin Encarnacion or Yoenis Cespedes, who may otherwise find limited markets for the prices they're demanding. Fewer teams paying the luxury tax would also mean less money being funneled back to small-market teams like the Brewers.
Union meetings begin today, and Ken Rosenthal is one person who thinks that will speed up the process heading into Thursday. If no deal is reached and the owners lock the players out, the offseason would basically come to a grinding halt, with teams wanting to know the rules they'll be working under in the future before making any other moves.