Friday, April 12

MLB’s new CBA: What baseball fans need to know

By Pedro Moura
FOX Sports MLB Writer

There will be baseball in 2022 — and beyond. 

After one of the longest work stoppages in the sport’s history, Major League Baseball and the players’ association settled Thursday on a new collective bargaining agreement to govern the next five seasons. 

Opening Day is delayed, but the players and owners averted a significant setback to starting the season. Spring training will begin imminently, and a full, 162-game slate will start April 7, only one week late.

MLB instituted the lockout 99 days ago. The two sides then required two months of steady negotiations — including two weeks of furious ones — to reach Thursday’s deal, which was reportedly unanimously rejected by the union’s executive subcommittee of players yet overwhelmingly approved by each team’s union representative. 

Here follows an analysis of the key developments within this agreement, which will govern the sport for the next four years and nine months. It might not prove to radically reshape the game, but change appears to be ahead.

* With a significant increase in the minimum salary, from $570,000 to $700,000, players successfully funneled more money to their younger members, a stated goal of theirs for years. This is a 23% increase, with another 10% slated by the end of the five-year agreement. Players set out asking for more, but this represents a sizable improvement.

* There will be a $50 million pool to split at the end of each season among pre-arbitration players who have excelled. The two sides were reportedly $25 million apart entering Thursday but settled on $50 million, a hair closer to the league’s position. This is another product of the union’s efforts to better compensate young players who have not yet reached free agency, though it will not impact teams’ ability to manipulate the service time of top prospects. 

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Players hope some new, small measures will aid in that pursuit. Reportedly, finishing near the top of Rookie of the Year voting will earn players full years of service time and teams extra draft picks. Notably, teams will not be able to option players more than five times per season. Several teams have made a habit in recent years of blowing past that number.

* The first six picks of the MLB draft will be determined by an NBA-like draft lottery. That, the players hope, will lessen teams’ incentive to tank in favor of top picks. Plenty of future stars are selected fifth and sixth overall, but the likelihood of obtaining a franchise-altering talent is lower there than with the first couple of picks. If 100-loss teams cannot count on receiving the first or second pick, will they operate differently? That remains to be seen. The draft will reportedly span 20 rounds, half the pre-pandemic length but in line with last year.

* A 12-team playoff field, up from 10, will increase the annual pool of contenders. This was a key issue for the owners and not a significant sticking point for most players, as long as the postseason did not extend to 14 teams. It’s unclear how this will affect how teams pursue offseason improvements, and there’s no consensus from fans and industry insiders on how this will affect the postseason product.

* The first luxury-tax, or competitive-balance tax, threshold will start at $230 million and increase to $244 million over the course of the CBA. That’s a sizable 9.5% increase from last season and a 6% increase in the coming years. With it will come an additional tax threshold that figures to impede only the freest-spending teams — the Mets and, maybe, the Dodgers — from adding to their rosters. This appears to be one reason the MLBPA executive subcommittee so soundly rejected Thursday’s offer. The Mets’ Francisco Lindor and Max Scherzer are two of the eight committee members.

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* An international draft remains a possibility. Players and owners reportedly agreed to settle on its existence by July 25. If agreed upon, it would start in 2024, providing the runway many invested players insisted on. If it is indeed instituted, the qualifying offer for free agents would be correspondingly nixed. That could aid upper-tier free agents in their efforts to seek higher compensation.

* Lastly, the league receives the right to implement rule changes beginning next year, so long as it provides 45 days’ notice to the players. This opens the door for a shift ban, base-size increase, pitch clock and automated strike zone to arrive as soon as the 2023 season.

Complications remain before the regular season can start next month. Owners must officially ratify this deal. Players must arrive at spring training by the end of the weekend, no small chore for the many foreign players who could not count on the typical team assistance in acquiring their visas. Free agency must begin and quickly progress, with superstars Carlos Correa and Freddie Freeman potentially finding new homes.

But baseball is back, and it will look different in 2022. There will be advertising on team uniforms. There will be a designated hitter in the National League. Doubleheaders will go the full 18 innings again. More teams will make the playoffs. 

Yes, baseball is back.

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He most recently covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic. Previously, he spent five years covering the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times. More previously, he covered his alma mater, USC, for The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up in the Southern California suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.

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