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MLB and MLBPA agree to deal; lockout to end

The CBA still needs to be ratified, but that’s considered a formality at this point.

St Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

By a 26-12 vote, the MLBPA agreed to a deal with MLB, ending the lockout after 99 days. Players will report to spring training Sunday, March 13, and Opening Day is expected to be April 7. The 2022 season will feature a whole 162-game slate, and the postponed games will be made up with double-headers and additional games at the end of the season.

The new CBA, which still needs to be ratified though that is considered a formality, will bring several rule changes. Seven-inning doubleheaders and the “ghost runner” extra-inning rule are a thing of the past. The National League will adopt the designated hitter, and in 2023, MLB will only need a 45-day window to instate rule changes. Expected to come next season are the pitch clock, larger bases, and a ban of defensive shifts.

The playoff field will expand from 10 teams to 12. The top two divisional winners will receive first-round byes, and the Wild Card round will be a best-of-three. Divisional ties will no longer be decided by a Game 163. Instead, ties will be broken using a system similar to the NFL.

The amateur draft was shortened to 20 rounds in 2021, and that change will be permanent. In addition, MLB is adopting a six-team draft lottery, so draft order will no longer be entirely decided by losing record.

On the economic side, the minimum salary for a first-year player will go from $570,500 to $700,000 and increase to $780,000 by the end of the CBA. Pre-arbitration eligible players will also share in a $50 million pool based on performance. Each team will contribute to this pool equally, and the contribution is expected to count toward the new competitive balance tax threshold of $230 million. The CBT will rise to $244 in the final year of the CBA, and there will be a third surcharge level for teams that go way above the soft salary cap. The non-monetary penalties for exceeding the CBT will remain the same.

Also of note, the union has until July 25 to agree to an international draft which would begin in 2024. If the players approve by that deadline, the qualifying offer will be eliminated. If no agreement is made, the qualifying offer and international system will remain the same.

Ultimately, there are things to like about the CBA from the player’s side though the players had to move more on every core economic issue. Pre-arbitration players made the largest gains with the addition of the bonus pool and the increase in minimum salary. The new CBA also limits the number of times a player can be optioned in the same season to five.

However, little was done to curb service time manipulation as the players dropped their proposal to expand Super Two status. Top prospects who finish first or second in Rookie of the Year voting will receive a full year of service time. Teams who promote top prospects to the Opening Day roster will receive draft pick compensation if those players finish in the top three for Rookie of the Year or top five in MVP or Cy Young voting.

Nor was anything done to meaningfully address tanking. The draft lottery makes it harder to purposefully rack up number one overall picks, but tanking has never really been about hoarding draft picks. MLB isn’t the NBA or the NFL where one good pick can turn a franchise around. Tanking is more about keeping payroll low to exploit revenue sharing. It’s almost completely detached from the product on the field. Nothing in this CBA is going to make Bob Nutting invest in making the Pirates a competitive team. If anything, the expansion of the playoff field will deter spending on free agents since an 84-win team can now comfortably earn a postseason berth.

The only thing that might stymy tanking clubs is the union’s refusal to drop the 2018 grievance filed against the Rays, Pirates, A’s, and Marlins. The players agreed to drop the grievance filed in 2020 accusing the league of not negotiating in good faith, causing games to be missed and salaries to be lost.

The union was never going to make up all the ground it conceded in the last two CBAs at once. By no means does this CBA fix the endemic economic issues in MLB, but it’s an improvement over the previous decade no matter how slight.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.