mlb union cba salary cap floor revenues split

We’ve been talking about this for a few years, but we’re talking about it this week because Scott Boras was talking about it: the players’ salaries haven’t been keeping up with Major League Baseball’s revenues. Dramatically so.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, "But look at how much money those guys make! And look at the escalation of the average salary from year to year!"

You’re not mistaken. Established major leaguers are incredibly wealthy men, and their average salaries have been increasing far more than (for example) the U.S. rate of inflation. By almost any standard, major-league baseball players (and high-level professional athletes in general) have done exceptionally well for many years.

Just not as well as the teams themselves, thanks largely to wildly lucrative television contracts. We don’t have access to MLB’s books, but it seems that the players’ share of revenues has dropped from around 55 percent 12 years to lower than 40 percent this year.

Now, I should be very clear about something: We’re talking about revenues, not profits. And major-league teams are spending more money than ever on salaries for executives and managers and coaches, more money than ever on amateurs both domestically and internationally, and more money than ever on a hundred other things.

Still, Scott Boras has a point. If revenues are up 15 percent year to year and salaries are up "only" 10 percent, you might imagine why someone like Boras is looking for a change.

What’s difficult is coming up with a better way of doing it. Because while a salary floor seems like the easy answer, the union’s not getting a floor without a cap. And we all know how the union feels about a cap.

All of the above is a means to introduce Barry Petchesky’s Deadspin column about all this. His big finish:

There are more modest and realistic ways to spread the wealth around, involving some of the artificial limits on payouts for younger and mid-tier players, and you can probably expect the MLBPA to push for them over the next year. A raise in the minimum salary, which has risen 365 percent over the two-decade span that saw MLB revenues increase by nearly 550 percent. Changes to Scott Boras’s pet peeves like qualifying offers and service-time rules that delay players from reaching free agency paydays. A reduction of the luxury tax.

All of which sounds good for the players, but there’s no reason the owners would go along with it. They won’t mess with a good thing, not without major concessions from the players. And the second-biggest bargaining chip the players have—a salary cap—is one they’re apparently not prepared to use. (It was a cap, along with revenue sharing, that spurred the 1994 strike.) The union’s biggest bargaining chip? A labor stoppage. No one expects that to happen, but without the players enacting or conceding to something tectonic, they’ll be stuck waiting another few decades for the TV deals to expire. In the meantime, it’s good to own a baseball team.

Right. You could get rid of qualifying offers, or slightly expand the number of players eligible for free agency. Fool around with the luxury tax. Raise the minimum salary. Some of these things will happen, if only so the union can feel better about everything.

But as Petchesky notes, there’s simply no systemic mechanism — at least not one that’s palatable to both sides — for radically changing the current trendline. Which figures to be true until the local-TV money spigot gets turned off.

In the meantime, here’s a modest proposal: Simply for the sake of appearances, Major League Baseball could unilaterally double the pay of every minor-league player. This wouldn’t just be good public relations; it would also encourage a few more good young athletes to consider baseball as a career. And I would encourage Major League Baseball to publicize not the percentage of revenues that get funneled back to the union, but rather the percentage that goes to all baseball players, including those kids MLB is trying to recruit.

What if MLB could say with a straight face that 50 percent of its wildly expanding revenues were going to all the men and women and boys and girls playing baseball on this big blue marble. Wouldn’t that be something?