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OC Register: MLB drops arbitration cuts after union holds on free agents

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By RONALD BLUM AP Baseball Writer

Major League Baseball withdrew its plan for more limited salary arbitration on Tuesday, a day after the union withdrew its demand for greater free agent eligibility.

In the second straight day of talks aimed at an agreement to end a lockout that started on Dec. 2, clubs also accepted the union’s framework to funnel additional money to pre-arbitration-eligible players from central revenue, offering a $10 million pool based on awards and WAR. The union has asked for $105 million, which would be distributed to the top 30 pre-arbitration players based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and awards, such as the MVP and Cy Young Awards.

In addition, management increased its offer to increase the minimum salary for players with less than one year of major league service from $600,000 to $615,000, but with a provision teams couldn’t pay more than that amount. Players have proposed a $775,000 minimum next year, up from $570,500.

Management also withdrew its proposal that would have delinked pensions from inflation, which under the current plan results in automatic increases.

Details of the roughly one-hour bargaining session were disclosed by a pair of people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because no public statements were authorized.

Given the sides didn’t even speak about central economic issues for six weeks before talks resumed on Jan. 13, incremental progress over two days was positive as the bickering sides try to end baseball’s ninth work stoppage and first since 1995.

Still, time is dwindling before the scheduled start of spring training on Feb. 16. Opening Day of the regular season (March 31) will be threatened if there is not a deal by the end of next month.

The sides agreed to continue negotiating on non-core issues while the union deliberates its next step on the bigger economic components.

Teams at first proposed to eliminate arbitration for all players and earlier this month limited the plan to getting rid of it for the so-called “super 2s,” the 22% of players who are eligible with at least two seasons of major league service but less than three.

Players want to increase arbitration eligibility to all players with two years of major league service, its level from 1974-86. They also want to cut revenue sharing by what the union estimates is $30 million annually, which if accomplished likely would increase spending by large-market teams.

Clubs say they will not consider changes to arbitration or alterations that would lower revenue sharing, and they dispute the union’s revenue sharing projection.

Players want new structures to address alleged service time manipulation and increased roster teardowns in recent seasons by rebuilding teams. Teams proposed that any player called up in August or September who remained eligible for Rookie of the Year the following season would count toward extra amateur draft picks under their plan aimed to address service time.

The sides next plan to work on a dozen non-core economic issues, in order to end the lockout as soon as the major points are agreed upon.

Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem, Executive Vice President Morgan Sword, Senior Vice President Patrick Houlihan and Vice President Reed MacPhail represented the clubs.

Bruce Meyer, the union’s senior director of collective bargaining and legal, headed the players’ delegation, which also included general counsel Ian Penny and deputy general counsel Matt Nussbaum. While Monday’s meeting was limited to a small group, 25-30 players joined in by Zoom on Tuesday.

Reliever Andrew Miller and Colorado Rockies CEO Dick Monfort were at Monday’s session but did not attend Tuesday.

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