November 22, 2011
Are they done patting each other on the back over in New York yet?
Has everyone been thanked?
Yes, gladhanding and self congratulations were the main menu items at the Major League Baseball office on Tuesday and it's easy to see why they were being served up. Both the league and players association officially came to terms on another collective bargaining agreement that will ensure five more seasons of labor peace. By the time this deal expires on Dec. 1, 2016, MLB will have enjoyed 21 seasons of stoppage-free play.
Though their friends in other sports have had a hard time finding an amicable way to split billions, both sides in baseball find themselves among the most content rich people on the planet. But that's not to suggest that this new deal is a simple rollover of the bargains struck in 1995, 2002 and 2006. There are plenty of new features in this agreement, so a few answers to some of the questions you may have can be found in our Q&A below. A more legal-reading summary of the agreement can be found on MLB.com.
Testing for HGH will be implemented during spring training and the offseason, but in-season collection is subject to further talks. The amateur draft and international signings have also undergone a not-insignificant makeover while plenty of lip service — but no substantive change — was paid to personal behaviors like alcohol and tobacco consumption. We'll get to that in a bit, though.
Any other big changes?
There were a few formalities in the agreement, most of which we knew were coming. The Astros are heading over to the AL. There will be a second wild card in each league no later than the 2013 season, though Bud Selig made it sound like we'll already be seeing it in 2012. Instant replay could also be expanded to fair/foul calls and "trapped" fly-ball attempts, but there's a meeting with the umpires to be had first before anything is official.
Which change will have the biggest long-term impact?
No question, it's the alterations to the amateur draft. Without getting into too much gore, every pick in the first 10 rounds will be assigned a dollar value. Each team will then be assigned an amount that's equal to the combined "slot" values of their picks. If teams spend more than that dollar figure in signing their picks, they'll be subjected to a sliding tax schedule depending on how much they go over. There's a good possibility that international players will be included in future drafts, but the current agreement only calls for an "international talent committee" to assess the situation.
Why were these changes made to the draft?
The PR-friendly response is that a slotting system will reinforce the integrity of the draft. Players will be picked according to their talent and not their "signability." Good players may no longer slip all the way to the team with the resources to sign them.
That may indeed be the case, but there is also no question that the system also helps limit the costs for the owners. It is the league's biggest win in the deal and could theoretically also benefit the league's existing players if teams end up spending more tax-free dollars on veterans than on younger talent requiring additional tax payments.
What else did the players gain?
The players will get a raise in the league minimum from $414K in 2011 to $480K in 2012. Another big benefit for the MLBPA: The percentage of arbitration-eligible players after two seasons will increase from the top 17 percent (according to service time) to the top 22 percent.
Do small-market teams come out on the short end of the stick here?
There's a lot of rightful concern that attaching luxury taxes to signing draft picks will severely kneecap a small market team's ability to build through the draft by attempting to amass as much young talent as possible. Though it won't eliminate that method completely, it will give them a much smaller margin for error as poorer teams will have to budget as carefully as they do with their major-league roster. It'll also give them a smaller pool of talent to draft from as some high school athletes may choose to play baseball in college — or opt for another sport entirely (think Bubba Starling) — if their potential payday is being limited by some sort of slotted value.
To give you some idea of what these teams are facing, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent a record $17 million to sign their 2011 draft picks and beef up their farm system. But Maury Brown from Biz of Baseball reports that each team will have a signing bonus pool between $4.5 and $11.5 million — depending on their draft position —to sign their picks. There's no way the Pirates could do something similar in 2012 as it took an estimated $13 million just to sign their top two draft picks in Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell(notes).
How does MLB spin that one?
Part of the agreement calls for a new "competitive balance lottery." The teams with the smallest revenues and least success will be entered in a drawing for six draft picks sandwiched between the second and third rounds. Teams will also only receive compensation for players lost to free agency — a pick at the end of the first round — if that player was with the team all season long. So the days of a rich contender gaining picks for a deadline pickup are gone.
But again, the additional picks do smaller market teams little good if they can't afford the taxes it'll take to sign them.
Chewing tobacco. Is it officially gone from big-league ballparks?
Not quite. The new deal states that players and coaches may not use smokeless tobacco during TV interviews and club appearances. It also states that "players, managers and coaches must conceal tobacco products (including packages and tins), and may not carry tobacco products in their uniforms or on their bodies." Violators are subject to punishment, though the terms are not outlined.
This will be an interesting one to follow, especially considering it doesn't say anything about the huge mouthfuls of dip that can be spotted in a player's upper lip during many games. Does that count as not concealing the product? The deal should have gone all the way on a ban or not at all on this point.
What about DWIs? Stricter punishment for the players who drive drunk?
Nope. There will be no repercussions to help deter the players from making a dangerous decision and putting other lives at risk. Though the league will gladly find them a substance abuse counselor they may or may not need.
Any equipment changes?
All players will have to wear a less "bulky" version of David Wright's(notes) "Great Gazoo" helmet in 2013. And new players won't be able to use low-density maple bats, though players already using them will be grandfathered in.
Any final thoughts?
It's going to be interesting to see how the draft dynamic changes with the slotting system. Teams from smaller markets have a right to be concerned. But if you're a fan of a large market team, there's no reason not to be excited. While our NFL and NBA brethren have been saddled with no-fun discussions about negotiation ploys and legal documents more suited for a classroom than a chatroom, it's nice to know that we'll be talking more about the sport and less about the lawyers.