MLB Gets New CBA; Shows NBA How It’s Done

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, November 25th, 2011

by Dic Humphrey

Major League Baseball announced a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association this week, an agreement that will run through the 2016 season. That in itself is a story as this agreement will expire more than 20 years after the bloody work stoppage of 1994. That year, baseball came to a halt after games were played on August 12. The playoffs and World Series were lost, and the 1995 season did not start on time, in a total failure of both sides in the bargaining process. It took years for the sport to recover from the damage, and apparently both sides took note as this new agreement will complete 22 seasons without a work stoppage since play resumed in 1995. Work on this year’s agreement has taken 11 months, and the agreement still needs to be ratified by both owners and players; but both ratifications are expected to be a formality.

Looking at the changes in this agreement, it has become apparent that the two bargaining sides have identified problems in baseball and have rolled up their sleeves to work together to arrive at solutions to those problems. Congratulations! Everyone is a winner – players, owners and fans.

The most obvious change is the expansion of the playoffs. There will be two Wild Card teams in each league. They will have a play-in game to join the three divisional winners in the playoffs as we have known them since 1995. The effect will not only expand the playoffs from eight to 10 teams, but will put a premium on winning the division.

Part of the agreement is to move the Astros from the National League into the American League West beginning in the 2013 season, which will even up all six divisions at five teams apiece. That will alter inter-league play considerably. In the past, inter-league play opened with a weekend in late May, and then continued in June sometimes flopping into July. With an odd number of teams in each league, inter-league games will be played throughout the season.

The details of the schedule format are still to be finalized, but the prevalent thinking is that teams will play their four divisional opponents 18 times during the season for a total of 72 games out of the 162 game season (44%). The Rangers have been playing their three divisional opponents 19 games each season for a total of 57 divisional games (35%). That will mean six series with the Astros beginning in 2013. In the recent years, Houston and Texas have played one three-game series at each team’s park, and those series have been well attended, especially when they fell on a weekend. It will be interesting to see how the attendance fares when these teams face each other three times as often as divisional opponents.

There were a number of changes to the draft process and how that relates to free agent signings. In the past, there has been a mysterious mathematical rating system that classified free agent players as type A or B for purposes of draft choice compensation if those players are lost to another team as a free agent. The new agreement does away with the rating system, limits the number of free agents that carry compensation when they sign elsewhere, and identify the top free agents for purposes of draft choice compensation by the amount of money they get signed for. The effect should be to lessen the number of draft picks that are forfeited and make numerous free agents more attractive targets as they will not require forfeiture of draft picks.

Also, there will some limited situations where draft picks can be traded.

There will also be disincentives for over spending on draft picks. Often in the past, bad teams drafting early have passed on the best players simply because they were too expensive. Jered Weaver for example was the best pitcher in the 2004 draft, but slipped to the 12th overall pick because his agent was Scott Boras who was demanding a king’s ransom in bonus and guaranteed salaries. The well heeled Angels were the beneficiaries of the system, while inferior teams that certainly needed a top pitching prospect took inferior players because Weaver’s price was too steep. The changes in this CBA are an attempt to level the playing field so that lesser teams will be able to draft better players.

This may or may not be helpful to the Rangers, who have done quite well drafting in past years. Texas has offered more than slot money on occasion, but has done well in the draft in years in which the team was near or in bankruptcy and didn’t have a lot of money for draft choices. While specific changes in the CBA may hinder the Rangers in certain player acquisition areas, Texas under Jon Daniels’ leadership has developed a strong corps of scouts and evaluators, and will continue to do well in acquiring new players for the Rangers’ system to develop.

Somewhat surprisingly, the new agreement provides for blood testing for human growth hormone (hGH). It is surprising in that there is no evidence that hGH actually enhances players’ performances, and the MLBPA has resisted blood testing for so long.

Other highlights of the agreement include expanded use of instant replay, subject to working out agreement with the Umpires’ Association, a raise in the minimum salary from $414,000 to $480,000 initially, with escalations that will take the minimum salary over the $500,000 mark before the agreement expires, further restrictions on smokeless tobacco use by on field personnel, and changes in the luxury tax on big salaried teams.

So far in 2011, sports fans have seen a lengthy lockout in the NFL and labor strife in the NBA that has already cost games and threatens to scrap the 2011-12 season altogether. Baseball in the past has had brutal labor battles. There was once a time when the expiration of a labor contract almost certainly meant a work stoppage. Those days seem like a distant memory with the announcement of this CBA which was accomplished quietly behind closed doors with little fanfare. Fans have seen the showmanship of DeMaurice Smith leading the NFL Players’ Association and his NBA counterpart Billy Hunter. The average fan however can’t even name MLBPA’s lead negotiator in these talks, which is Michael Wiener in case you’re curious. In this case, quiet is good. Baseball has finally gotten their labor relations right.

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