As we reported last night, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association came to a meeting of the minds on a new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement. As the days go on and the agreement is reduced to writing, there will be new quirks and details reported that have not yet come to light. And, of course, many of the impacts and implications of new rules and provisions in place will not be revealed until they’ve been put into practice. Nevertheless, let’s take a brief, initial cut at the the major terms that have been made public, assess what they mean for the game and try to determine who benefits most.
No Home Field Advantage in the World Series Attached to the All-Star Game
This time it no longer counts! Now home field in the World Series will go to the pennant winner with the better overall record. This is not perfect, of course, given unbalanced schedules and stuff, but it’s far less arbitrary than the winner of an exhibition no one takes seriously determining things. There are still some stakes for the All-Star Game, however: cash. As in a pool of money going to the winning team. The best incentives are often the crudest and most direct.
- Winner: Everyone who hates capriciousness and random rules.
- Loser: Bud Selig, I guess, as the whole home field advantage thing was his baby, imposed to make up for the embarrassing tie in the 2002 All-Star Game. I’d assume at this point even he realizes it was a dumb, though, and that his legacy does not depend upon such a silly thing.
Minimum Disabled List Stay Reduced From 15 to 10 Days
Gone is the old 15-day disabled list, in is the ten-day. As before, players can always be on the DL for much, much longer than 10 days, but now the minimum time for which they can be disabled is shorter.
- Winner: Both players and teams. There is always a calculus involved in a DL stint, at least for minor or nagging injuries, with a team trying to figure out if it’s better to be without a guy for over two weeks on an injury that may not require a two-week convalescence or, alternatively, to play shorthanded for a time, gambling that the player will be better in shorter-than-expected time frame and, possibly, playing them before they’re truly healed. With a 10-day DL the calculus is 33% less critical. Players can be disabled more freely and can return more quickly, reducing the incentive for them to play through an injury.
- Loser: People who write up transaction blurbs. Like someone who puts the wrong year on their checks in January, expect a lot of erroneous “15-day DL” reports in April and May as the dudes at Rotoworld get used to the new rule.
Luxury-tax Threshold Increasing From $189 million Last Season to $195 million Now and $210 Million Over the Course of the New Deal.
Formally known as the “Competitive Balance Tax,” the luxury tax (a) limits just how much of an advantage the richest teams in baseball have in the free agent market, thus encouraging greater competitive balance; while (b) serving as something of a soft salary cap, inasmuch as teams are heavily penalized for spending above its limit (only a small handful have ever exceeded the luxury tax level since its inception). Increasing it was key for the players, who have seen average individual salaries increase at a rate far in excess of the increase in luxury tax levels. Over time, of course, such a thing would depress salaries. From the owners’ perspective, a strong luxury-tax penalty is both a soft cost-containment mechanism and, as discussed above, something of a field-leveler between large and small revenue teams.
As is clear from its dual purposes and the repercussions any cost-containment mechanism may have, finding the sweet spot where the luxury tax does not harm either the owners or the players too greatly is not an easy trick. That’s also why it’s usually the last item negotiated in these bargaining sessions.
- Winner: As one can assume with such a complicated issue, both sides gave a little and got a little here. That the tax still exists is something most owners desired and that it is increasing is something the players obviously wanted. The specific numbers are, like any negotiations over money, a compromise, and only time will tell who got the better end of things.
- Loser: I suppose hardline labor people who see any limit on spending on salaries as anathema to workers rights and cheap owners who think any rule which allows a team with higher revenue to spend a penny more than he does are opposed to the luxury tax in principle, but such is the stuff of compromise.
Qualifying Offer Tweaks
The qualifying offer, in which teams who extend a certain one-year contract to departing free agents receive a first round pick if the player rejects the offer and signs elsewhere, had a pretty noticeable impact on the market for the handful of players it affected each season. The qualifying offer still stands in the new deal, but (a) players can no longer be extended a qualifying offer more than one time; (b) the draft pick a team loses has been reduced in significance; and (c) the team losing the player will get pick only if player signs contract of $50 million or more.
- Winner: This seems to be a pretty decent win for players who, one suspects, did not realize how bad a deal it was for them to agree to the dang thing five years ago. While the scheme still exists, the penalty for a team signing qualifying offer-attached players has been reduced (i.e. teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold — not many — will lose a second and a fifth-round draft pick if it signs a QO-attached free agent; teams under the threshold will lose a third-round pick) making them more appealing commodities. Another winner: trade deadline junkies, as one significant effect of this may be seeing an increase in mid-season trades for players in walk years. When, under the previous system, a club could expect to get a first round pick for holding on to a player an extra couple of months, it may have very well been worth doing so. Now it may be more attractive to try to get something in return from him in July. And, of course, once a player is traded midseason, he is no longer subject to a qualifying offer.
- Loser: GMs who may have viewed the qualifying offer system as a great way to stock up on draft picks. Though, honestly, the number of players and picks involved here were never so great that this was a big incentive in the way the old system with automatic draft pick compensation turned out to be.
Smokeless Tobacco Ban for all new Major Leaguers
There has been a ban on smokeless tobacco use for minor leaguers for a couple of years now, but big leaguers were allowed to do what they wanted, at least as long as they weren’t too conspicuous about it. On the big league level the rules were pretty much ignored, however, with Major League Baseball likely realizing that enforcing such a rule on grown men who have been using the stuff for years was more trouble than it was worth. Those guys are all allowed to keep using smokeless tobacco as they are grandfathered in. New major leaguers, however, are going to be prohibited from doing so.
- Winners: People interested in reducing smokeless tobacco use, which should be pretty much everyone except companies which make smokeless tobacco. Players who may have used the stuff, whether they realize it now or not. The stuff is vile and dangerous.
- Losers: Hardliners, I suppose, who would like to see an immediate and total ban. Such a thing was never going to happen, however, so they should put their loss in perspective. A grandfathered rule is a reasonable one.
No International Draft
This was long-rumored to be on the table but unexpected pushback from the union on the matter put the kibosh on it. That international amateurs can still negotiate with all 30 teams instead of being controlled by one is a good thing. That international signings will be capped at around $5-6 million per team per year, however, will limit what the top players are played and certainly is a good thing for owners looking to save money. Which, contrary to their assertions in the runup to negotiations, was really what the draft proposal was all about.
How much it limits spending will depend on the specific new rules in place. Before, there were bonus “pools,” allocated on a team-by-team basis, with certain penalties applied to teams who exceeded them. Those pools ranged, in this most recent signing period, from a little over $2 million to $5.6 million. Many teams spent dramatically more than that, however, and were willing to take the penalties. Now that this has been characterized as a “cap,” aggregate spending may go down and large bonuses given to the top amateurs — which have begun to push up against that $5-6 million level — will become a bit more rare, as teams may wish to spread their money out among more players.
- Winners: Impossible to say until we see the details — all salary caps are complicated — and how it plays out in practice. At the moment the owners got the cost containment they sought and the cap level is significantly below what some who proposed increasing bonus pools suggested as reasonable, so they probably didn’t do too badly for themselves.
- Losers: There will likely be some which, again, we’ll see over time. At first glance, I’d guess that the very top international players will lose money on this, as teams may bypass signing them given that it will likely mean signing no other players. And, of course, their bonuses will be capped.
No 26th-Man on the Roster in exchange for a reduction in expanded active roster limits for September
Another thing expected but which did not come to pass. The idea was to limit those big, unwieldily September rosters and, in exchange for the loss of service time to young players that would have occasioned, giving one more player a full season’s worth of extra service time. The problem, as many had pointed out when this idea was first discussed, was that it was highly likely that teams given a 26th roster spot would simply give it to yet another reliever, incentivizing more pitching changes and, thus, slower, more boring games, which no one wanted. To avoid that, MLB would likely have wanted to tie the 26th man to a rule limiting pitching changes or reliever usage, but that would be such a major change to the way baseball operates that tacking it on as a concession to deal pertaining to the relatively minor matter of expanded rosters in September would’ve seemed like the tail wagging the dog. Probably best that this whole notion was scrapped in order to be revisited at a later date.
- Winners: All of us who hate excessive pitching changes; people who like to see major matters handled in a serious manner and not as an afterthought.
- Losers: The people who get quoted every September complaining about teams using 7 relief pitchers in a nine-inning game because, hey, they can. Unless they simply like being quoted, in which case they’re still in business.
More Off Days In The Schedule
Beginning in 2018, the 162-game regular-season schedules will start four days earlier — in the middle of the week rather than on the weekend/Monday — allowing teams more off-days.
- Winners: Players, who have been agitating for more off-days. This isn’t amazingly significant — it’ll probably amount to a bit less than an extra off-day a month or so — but one extra day in the dog days of July and August will boost morale.
- Losers: People who hate late March and early April games played in snow flurries, of which there will likely be more.
Increased Minimum Salary
The major league minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, then to $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years. The minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, then to $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.
- Winners: Guys making the minimum, obviously.
- Losers: minor leaguers not on 40-man rosters who will still be paid less than minimum wage once all of their work requirements are factored in and who, for the millionth time in a row, got no help from the MLBPA and no more money thrown their way by MLB.
Changes to Drug and Domestic Violence Policies
There will be increased testing and players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year. There will also be some changes to the domestic violence policy, though details have yet to emerge.
- Winners: Players who have been agitating for tougher drug rules.
- Losers: Hard to say at the moment, as the details are not really known.
There will likely be many more changes and new rules that are revealed in the coming days and weeks. For now, it seems like this is a pretty straightforward CBA with nothing earth-shattering coming into play. Everyone gave some, everyone got some and the game will go on for five more years without a work stoppage.