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MLB’s sliding scale proposal is an attempt to split the union

The owners are preying on the class divide within the player base.

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An official Rawlings Major League Baseball for the 2020 Major League Baseball season. Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

MLB has shifted its plan from a 50-50 revenue split to a sliding scale system that will see the wealthiest players take the largest cuts while those earning less will receive closer to their full, prorated salary. Bob Nightengale was the first to report the news.

At first glance, this might look like a sensible solution. Per Baseball Reference, Mike Trout has made $152.8 million in his career. If he never makes another dime, his grandkids are still set for life. Someone making the league minimum needs their full salary more than Trout, especially those players who will only be up in the bigs this year because the rosters will expand and otherwise might not have made it. After spending the last few years playing for free in college and/or a pittance in the minors, they’ve more than earned their full salary.

A division between the Mike Trouts and the Jaylins Davis (or the Max Scherzers and Cory Gearrins) is exactly what MLB wants. Creating a two-tiered system is a common divide and conquer tactic deployed by companies. Two years ago, UPS tried to split their workers in an attempt to create a lower class of driver who would receive fewer benefits and protections than those in upper class.

The MLBPA isn’t a two-tiered system, but it has often acted like one. At Baseball Prospectus, Marc Normandin wrote:

The real, inarguable losers of the recent MLB/MLBPA deal are amateurs and minor-league players... The current players have their own battles, sure, but giving away rights of potential future members and players who, through no fault of their own, aren’t members of the Players Association in order to fight those battles isn’t an ideal balancing act. It creates MLB’s version of a two-tier system, where the PA is often looking at the right now more than the long game, and at the expense of the union’s own power and long-term leverage.

The MLBPA has a history of prioritizing its most senior members who incidentally cost the teams who employ them the most money. The 1985 strike ended quickly because veterans didn’t want to fight for pre-arb players, and the third year of arbitration agreed to then is still costing players money both in arbitration and free agency.

MLB’s hope is that by extending a proposal which benefits the lower tier, this will create pressure on the higher tier to accept a deal that will pay them less and save the owners money. If that doesn’t work and a deal to get the season underway falls through, well then the public will blame the greedy players. If the owners are taken at their word, they’ll still save money by not playing the season in front of empty stadiums.

There’s no set deadline on negotiations, but if the season is to begin around July 4, then a deal likely needs to be struck by June. MLB could have made this proposal weeks ago—a sliding scale for pay cuts isn’t a complicated idea—but by waiting, they’re creating pressure on the players to agree to something in more haste. No matter what happens in these negotiations, the owners are going to pass the losses onto the players. If the union is actually united and the agreed upon prorated salaries are paid out, upcoming free agents won’t just enter a slow market, but a downright hostile one.

That the owners will get what they want regardless is a problem that will only get worse with a divided union. Players need to remember that they have more in common with each other than they do with the owners. Mike Trout’s enormous wealth is still dwarfed by the average principal owner’s, and Trout didn’t grow his net worth by being born wealthy, exploiting the labor of the people beneath him, or by grifting a city into paying for a stadium with its tax dollars.

The players are also the ones risking the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones by playing the season. If anything, they be should getting paid more, but they’ve already agreed to what works out to be a 50 percent pay cut. That the owners are asking for more is insulting.

The MLBPA could do more to act in the best interests of its younger members, but conceding compensation of its veterans to subsidize the losses of those who own billion dollar franchises isn’t it.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.