Major League Baseball magically made those two weeks of canceled games re-appear Thursday, keeping a full 162-game season intact, when MLB and the players association agreed to a new five-year collective bargaining agreementending the league’s 99-day lockout.
The regular season will now start a week late, with opening day tentatively scheduled for April 7, two persons with direct knowledge told USA TODAY Sports. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because MLB has not made an official announcement.
The regular season calendar will be extended by three days, the officials say, with teams making up the other games with three of four doubleheaders. The league also plans to eliminate several days during the postseason to assure the season doesn’t extend past the first few days of November to satisfy its TV partners.
It will still be at least two days before the CBA is officially ratified, but players are expected to begin reporting to their spring training camps by Monday. Spring training will last 3 ½ weeks, with exhibition games expected to start around March 20 in Arizona and Florida.
The biggest on-field changes in the agreement will feature the postseason expanded from 10 teams to 12 teams. There will be a DH in the National League. And MLB will have the right in 2023 to implement a pitch clock, a restrictive shift forcing all four infielders to be on the dirt when the pitch is thrown, and enlarged bases.
In the end, the players union can certainly claim victory in these negotiations, with players receiving nearly $500 million in new money with record raises for rookies and players not eligible for arbitration.
The new luxury tax thresholds in the CBA increased to $230 million in 2022, and rises to $232 million, $236 million, $240 million and $244 million throughout the agreement. There was also a third surcharge put in that would begin at $290 million in 2022 and $60 million higher than the base each year to curb runaway spenders such as the Los Angeles Dodgers last year and perhaps the New York Mets this year.
The newly added pre-arbitration bonus pool will be $50 million, rewarding players for awards and finishing high in WAR (wins above replacement) for their positions.
The minimum salary, which was $570,500 last year, will now be $700,000, rising each year to $715,000, $730,000, $750,000 and $780,000.
There will also be a six-pick draft lottery for the 18 teams that don’t make the playoffs each year instead of the No. 1 pick automatically going to the team with the worst record.
STREAMING: Apple teams up with MLB for ‘Friday Night Baseball’
SPORTS NEWSLETTER: Sign up to get daily updates in your inbox
The biggest obstacle in the final days of these negotiations turned out to be the international draft, which the MLB badly sought in their talks, but was met with strong resistance. The sides reached a compromise Thursday morning in which they agreed to table talks on the international draft until July 25. If the union accepts, the draft would begin in 2024 and there would no longer be draft compensation in free agency. If the union declines, the qualifying offers and direct draft compensation would return, just as it has been in the previous collective bargaining agreement.
In other new provisions of the deal, players can no longer be optioned more than five times in a season before being exposed to waivers. There were 56 players who were optioned at least six times last year, including 35 pitchers.
To prevent tanking, small market teams can now only pick in the draft lottery two consecutive years while large market teams can pick just once in the lottery before sliding to the 10th pick.
There’s also a new rule to help prevent manipulation of service time with the top two finishers in the Rookie of the Year race getting a full year of service. Also, a team that has a rookie on the opening-day roster can receive a draft pick each year if the player finishes among the top rookies or top 5 in the MVP and Cy Young balloting.
Now that the labor war is over, buckle up for a frantic, crazy, chaotic and turbulent month before Opening Day. There are still about 200 unsigned free agents needing jobs, teams still needing to fill out rosters, salary-arbitration cases, and teams wanting to make trades.
In 1995 when the work stoppage ended, there were 140 major-league free agents who signed contracts during a three-week period in April, including 95 free agents from April 5-12.
It’s unknown whether the three-month lockout will leave a permanent scar now that the full season will be intact, but there’s fear the damage could be irreparable for at least the casual baseball fan.
“I don’t know if we’re going to have another steroid era to save the game,” San Francisco Giants outfielder Austin Slater said Tuesday at the union’s workout camp in Mesa, Arizona “The league lucked out that there was a home -run chase like no one had ever seen before. I can’t predict the future, maybe that happens again, but I’d say the chances are just pretty low.”
Yet, playing 162 games will at least protect the integrity of the season, and perhaps soothe fans’ anger.
“I’ve been a fan longer than I’ve been a player,” Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen said, “so I put myself in their shoes. And I know people can judge the money factor from both sides, but we want fans in the stands and we want the season to happen because we miss them. I mean, fans make this sport great.”
And, if the fans’ anger doesn’t subside, well, who can blame ’em?
“It’s something we’re going to have to live with,” Slater said. “It’s going to be a black mark on the game moving forward. Hopefully, fans will recover and come back to the ballparks but you never know.”
We’ll see over time if the fans ever accept the industry’s apology, whether they will have their own silent protest by staying away from the ballpark, but for the first time since the World Series, we’re going to soon hear those two beautiful words ringing throughout baseball.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @bnightengale
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism