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MLB Labor Negotiations: Back To The Table Sunday

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MLB negotiators could be prepared to make the players a big offer.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball wants one of the centerpieces of the new labor agreement to be an international draft.

Whether this would be a good thing for baseball remains to be seen (I’m skeptical). But according to Jon Heyman, negotiators are headed back to the table Sunday with potentially a huge offer from owners to players:

Union leaders and MLB negotiators will be back at the bargaining table Sunday in Dallas after a five-day respite. And while an offseason lockout looms as a possibility for Thursday’s deadline, high hopes remain for both sides to reach agreement on a new CBA after MLB’s offer to free up free agency and make it, in the words of one person, “the freest free agency in sports,” in return for the establishment of an international draft.

Essentially, writes Heyman, the owners are proposing to eliminate the qualifying-offer system that’s currently in place to provide some compensation for teams losing free agents in order to get players to agree to an international draft.

It seems a strange quid pro quo — these two things are completely unrelated. But here, in a nutshell, is what’s at stake:

MLB bigs, mindful of the huge benefit won by management with the establishment of the qualifying offer system in free agency, have offered to eliminate direct compensation in the form of a draft pick lost for signing top free agents. That would, in effect, take the legs out of an onerous qualifying-offer rule that a players’ source said has cost players as much as $1 billion in compensation under the current five-year agreement, maybe even $1.5 billion. Even management people concede the cost to players has been very high; yet, the qualifying-offer system has been offered back, at a price.

The rest of Heyman’s article goes on to explain the qualifying-offer system and what it’s done in the four years it’s been in effect, and what the players would be giving up in exchange. Here, for example, is one description of what the QO system has produced:

A case could be made that the qualifying offer system has other inequities, as well, and its removal would benefit all. It arbitrarily rewards players who are traded by disallowing them to be saddled with the qualifying offer, may not have helped small-market teams as much as was hoped for and also may raise the spectre of tanking by rewarding extremely poor-performing organizations, even if no tanking is actually taking place.

That’s not really beneficial to anyone, and it took until the third year of the system (last year) before anyone actually accepted one. Two players accepted a QO this year: Neil Walker (who was injured much of 2016) and Jeremy Hellickson.

It’s not clear to me what the owners think they are getting from the international draft idea that they couldn’t get by simply putting a hard cap on international signings each year. If they’re trying to cut costs this doesn’t seem the best way to do it.

The CBA expires December 1, just four days from now. Both sides have hinted that there could be a settlement and agreement by then, and even if there isn’t, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate threat of a lockout. The only effect of a lockout in December would be to essentially shut down the Winter Meetings, scheduled to start December 5, since under a lockout, no trades or free-agent signings would happen. More likely, if they can’t come to an agreement by December 1, the terms of the current CBA would remain in force until a new one could be signed.