MLB Proposes Sliding Pay Scale with Highest-Paid Players Taking Biggest Cuts (Updated)

Major League Baseball’s reported plan to offer players a 50-50 split of revenues went over so poorly that they never formally presented it, but the plan they handed the players Tuesday wasn’t much better. According to USA Today and other outlets, the league introduced a sliding pay scale in which the players would receive varying percentages of their prorated salaries. Those who make the most would take the biggest cuts while those on the lower end would still receive most of their prorated salaries.

It’s kind of like being taxed, just without any chance to make any of it back after the year. The exact structure and percentages of the cuts aren’t known at this point, but ESPN indicated that the top tier of players might get less than 40% of their full-season salaries. That might mean it’s only about a 10% reduction, since the agreement to prorate salaries already had them at just about half of their standard salary for an 82-game season.

Please understand that I’m not trying to justify the owners’ proposal in any way, just trying to put things in perspective. For example, my initial read of that ESPN piece had me thinking the top players would be taking a 60% cut from the prorated amount when it’s actually 60% of their overall amount prior to the shutdown. Either way, it’s a significant ding.

Ed. note: See update below, it’s a pretty big haircut for the guys at the top.

As you might imagine, the players don’t seem to be very bullish on the deal.

Former Cub Brett Anderson spoke out about the potential strategy behind this proposal, but I think there could be something even more nefarious afoot. Not only is MLB setting up it’s most marketable and best-known players to be the ones drawing fans’ ire, this could be a way to sew seeds of discontent within the union.

While we don’t know at what level the cuts max out, we can probably guess that there are far more players on the low end of the spectrum than at the top. Those players on rookie deals are also the ones with greater need for a paycheck. That doesn’t mean Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are any less entitled to a full percentage of the prorated deals they thought they’d agreed to, but those guys should be at least slightly more financially secure.

It’s at least conceivable that MLB is trying to pit those players with the smallest salaries against those with the highest, gathering strength in numbers for the union to accept the proposal. Certainly wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened and it could play right into the league’s hand once collective bargaining agreement talks get cranked up.

The skeptic in me actually sees this more as a stroke of gamesmanship than merely a good-faith negotiating tactic. Maybe I’ve gotten too anti-owner to view things without bias, but that’s how I take this at first blush. Remember, this isn’t just about players refusing pay cuts, which in this case would be very similar to what team employees with the Cubs and other clubs have already done, it’s about maintaining what they believe was already agreed upon.

All that said, this isn’t a final offer by any stretch and there’s plenty of room to work something out. Or maybe more like just a little room, since an agreement probably needs to be in place within a week or so in order to get players and staff members back to camp in keeping with what everyone is still hoping will be a June 10(ish) re-start.

Now that formal financial talks have begun, this next week could get really interesting.

Update: Per a tweet from Jesse Rogers, we’ve got a sense of how the scale breaks down. A player who normally would have made $35 million will make about $7.8 million, just over 22% of his full annual salary or 45% of what he’d have earned on a pro-rated basis. A player making $10 million would get about $2.9 million, which is 29% of the full season and 58% of the prorated. A player at $1 million would be at $434,000 in this scenario, which is over 43% of his normal take and almost 87% of the full prorated total.

Jeff Passan tweeted a more detailed example of the scale, which goes in $5 million increments until the bottom three tiers. Whether it gets more granular, I’m not entirely sure. I’ll break down to percentages below in the event that you care what they are and don’t want to do the math.

From highest tier down, these are the percentages of their full salaries players would be paid under the proposal (double it for half a season):

$35M – 22.4%
$30M – 23.2%
$25M – 24.2%
$20M – 25.75%
$15M – 27%
$10M – 29.5%
$5M – 32.8%
$2M – 38.15%
$1M – 43.4%
$563.5K – 46.5%

As you can see, the percentages go up a little more with each rung on the ladder until the league-minimum guys are making about 93% of what they otherwise would have for an 82-game season. It’s definitely more in their favor than those at the top, but it’s still pretty jacked up for almost everyone involved. Players in the three highest tiers would be making less than a quarter of what they had expected prior to March 12 and there’s no way that’s going to fly.

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