MLB, MLBPA announce major changes, early CBA negotiations

Craig Calcaterra
NBC Sports

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have announced multiple changes to the All-Star Game, the trade deadline, pitching usage and roster construction. More importantly, they have announced that the sides will soon begin negotiations regarding more significant changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement — including substantive changes to the game’s financial arrangements — earlier than expected, with the possibility of an extension of the current CBA as part of that.

The major changes are as follows:

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  • As of this season there will be a single trade deadline on July 31, with the August 31 waiver trade deadline eliminated;

  • As first reported last week, the All-Star Game “Election Day” format will officially come online;

  • “Subject to discussions with broadcast partners,” inning breaks will be reduced from 2:05 to 2:00 in local games, and from 2:25 to 2:00 in national games;

  • The maximum number of mound visits per team will be reduced from six to five;

  • There will now be a $1 million bonus for the Home Run Derby winner, aimed at getting the biggest names to participate;

  • Beginning in 2020, a three-batter minimum for pitchers — though that is waived if the pitcher ends the inning — and an expansion of the active roster from 25 to 26 players will go into effect; and

  • Also beginning in 2020, regular-season rosters will expand from 25 to 26 players while September rosters will contract to a maximum of 28. There may likewise be limits placed on the number of pitchers on each roster;

  • Subject to input from a joint committee aimed at looking at new rules, beginning in 2020, the minimum placement period for pitchers on the Injured List will increase from 10 days to 15 days, and the minimum assignment period of pitchers who are optioned to the minors will increase from 10 days to 15 days.

Bill wrote about the details of trade deadline changes overnight. It’s unclear what actual effect having a single, July trade deadline without the usual August waiver business going down will have. One hope on the part of the players may be that teams will work harder to have a set club earlier — with an increased commitment to better players — earlier on given that there will be a decreased ability to improve the roster in August. My sense is that this will not, in practice, lead to noticeable changes given how few significant waiver deals there currently are, but there have been many CBA changes over the years that have led to unexpected consequences.

We likewise talked about the All-Star “Election Day” thing last week. My sense of this is that it’s a means of Major League Baseball increasing traffic to its lucratively-sponsored All-Star voting sites. Given how competitively insignificant the All-Star Game itself has become, any such tweaking is of no real baseball consequence.

The shorter inning breaks thing is a bit of a game-changer as far as pace and game length goes. It’s one of the few things the league can do to reduce downtime that doesn’t negatively impact the game.

The $1 million Home Run Derby bonus is clearly aimed at decreasing the number of big name players begging out of the Derby for various reasons. Among those reasons are the Derby’s physical toll and the perception — and it may just be a perception — that participation in the Derby messes with players’ swings and leads to decreased post-All-Star Break performance. A $1 million bonus may not attract the game’s more highly-paid players, but given how so many marquee players in today’s game are young and relatively underpaid given their performance and star power, it may serve as an actual enticement. Aaron Judge, for example, will make only $684,300 in 2019. In his case winning the Home Run Derby would be a financial boon. Will that inspire him to participate when he may be inclined not to? We’ll see.

The three-batter minimum for relief pitchers had been discussed earlier this offseason as a means of reducing constant pitching changes in the mid and late innings, thereby speeding up the game. The deal on this involves the union not agreeing to it explicitly but, rather, agreeing not to oppose it if Major League Baseball wishes to implement it in 2020, which they could do unilaterally since they first proposed the change this year. The union’s reluctance to give the rule its full support, one suspects, is a function of some of its members — lefty specialists, most notably — being likely to suffer in the job market as a result. Agreeing not to oppose it was the price of getting Major League Baseball to not implement a pitching clock this season, as it had the right to do if it wanted. Players hate the idea of the pitching clock.

Expanded rosters — from 25 to 26 — will clearly add big league jobs, which is an interest of the players. The fear is that teams would simply use it to add yet another relief pitcher, which could exacerbate the problem of constant pitching changes, but the sides will continue to negotiate on this point, with the hope of a rule being implemented that would limit the number of pitchers on each roster, possibly 13 during the regular season, 14 during the postseason. Here’s hoping that happens because an extra position player would be preferable in my mind.

Despite those considerable changes, the most significant part of this agreement is that the sides will begin negotiations regarding more substantive elements of the Collective Bargaining Agreement far earlier than they otherwise might have in the runup to the current deal’s 2021 expiration. Such negotiations could result in, basically, the tearing up of the old CBA and implementation of a new one with an extension of its term. Major League Baseball floated this idea in recent weeks and, as I said at the time, it was unclear whether its doing so was more about optics than substance. That the union is willing to agree to these talks strongly suggests that its leadership believes that the league will, in fact, engage on pocketbook matters in a meaningful way.

And make no mistake there are considerable items that need to be addressed.

As we’ve chronicled at length over the past two years, the current financial landscape in baseball has become a pretty bad one for the players. Despite soaring league revenues, the players’ share of those revenues has, at best, remained static but appears to have been reduced significantly (there is a lot of spin about this point by both sides, naturally). Whatever one thinks of that, it’s absolutely clear that team spending in free agency is way down. Players who, a few short years ago, would receive multiyear deals are now being reduced to minor league deals and players who used to receive short or minor league deals are now, essentially, being pushed out of the game. Likewise, teams have placed a greater and greater emphasis on younger players who cost little and have little or no leverage, resulting in a fundamental disconnect between that which makes a player valuable to a team and the vanishingly small amounts those valuable players are being paid. Meanwhile, an increasing number of teams appear to be making no real effort at competing, with tanking, service time manipulation of young players and years-long rebuilds being the order of the day.

While there are any number of arguments that can be made about the nature and significance of any of those points, it is indisputable that the league and the union are at pretty sharp odds over them. It is likewise indisputable that, due to the contentiousness of many of these issues, if there is to be a change to the financial arrangements between the league and the union, it will take a lot of time and a lot of work to get it done. As such, beginning negotiations about it all earlier, as opposed to waiting two more years when the expiration of the CBA is far closer, is probably a good idea.

The All-Star Game and roster changes are going to get most of the press today, but make no mistake, the possibility of earlier substantive negotiations on pocketbook issues in the bigger news.

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