Play Ball! MLB lockout ends as MLBPA, owners reach agreement

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association reached a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement on Thursday, ending the league's owner-imposed lockout. 

The union voted to approve a new proposal by a 26-12 margin (a simple majority, or 20 votes, was all that was required for the new agreement to pass, but it's notable that the eight members of the executive subcommittee all voted no). The owners ratified the new five-year CBA on Thursday night, voting 30-0 in favor. MLB's offseason business (trades and free agency) is expected soon. Players will report to spring training in the coming days, and MLB teams are set to play a full, 162-game season in 2022. Opening Day is April 7.

The lockout came to an end in its 99th day. The owners first enacted the lockout on Dec. 2, when the previous CBA expired, marking MLB's first work stoppage since the 1994-95 players strike. Though the league characterized that act as a defensive mechanism it hoped would hasten negotiations, the owners then waited more than six weeks to make their first proposal. Talks finally heated up in the final week of February, when the two sides daily met in Florida. An agreement was reached Thursday after hours of negotiations this week in New York. 

Here are some of the notable reported details from the accepted proposal, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal:

CBT threshold: $230 million in 2023 and peaks at $244 million in final year of CBA

CBT penalty tier: the introduction of a new tier that starts at $60 million past the threshold (the highest tier used to sit $40 million above the threshold)

Minimum salary: $700,000 and peaks at $780,000 in final year of CBA

Pre-arb bonus pool: $50 million

Postseason format: 12 teams

Commissioner Rob Manfred previously announced the cancelation of the first two weeks of the 2022 regular season when talks stalled, but all games are back on the schedule. Opening Day was originally scheduled for March 31, and the games that were lost in the first week will reportedly be made up through off days and doubleheaders.

Throughout the process, the union sought to raise the league minimum salary and the Competitive Balance Tax thresholds; implement a centralized bonus pool for pre-arbitration players that would be based on performance; and introduce some measures that would curb anti-competitive behavior, like tanking. The owners, for their part, prioritized an expanded postseason, an international draft, and the power to make rule changes, including, potentially, installing a pitch clock and larger bases, as well as restricting defensive positioning. 

This was the first lockout in league history that compromised the regular season.

Here are five takeaways from the new CBA.

1. The deal took a scenic route

It took 99 days from the start of the lockout (Dec. 2) for a deal to get done, thus making this the longest lockout in league history, as well as the first to compromise the regular season. (The previous record belonged to the 1990 lockout that lasted 32 days.)

The owners waited more than six weeks after placing the padlock to make their first proposal to the players. The two sides then met here and there, but it wasn't until late February when they began to meet multiple times, in-person, on a day-to-day basis. 

The league officially canceled the first two series of the season on March 1, but the sides remained engaged and continued to blow through artificial league-imposed deadline after artificial league-imposed deadline. Even on Thursday, the league had set a 3 p.m. ET "deadline" that passed without the players having voted to ratify or reject the agreement, which included a provision that will see the union drop a grievance against the league stemming from the shortened 2020 season. (The union had alleged the league opted to play fewer games than it could have.)

Despite all the public bickering and false-start negotiations, the league and the union were able to preserve the 162-game season, albeit in an altered format.

2. More money for younger players

One of the biggest goals the union had in these negotiations was to reward players who were in the early stages of their career. The way MLB's compensation system is set up, players who have fewer than three years of service time are essentially guaranteed to make no more than the league minimum, no matter how well they play.

The new CBA not only raised the league minimum by more than $100,000 (it was $575.5K in 2021), it introduced the pre-arbitration bonus pool, funded at $50 million. Players who are not yet eligible for arbitration will have a chance to make additional money based on where they rank in Wins Above Replacement. It won't give them their market's value, or anything close, but it's a considerable boost for talent who would otherwise be drastically underpaid relative to their performance. During negotiations, it was proposed that the money in the pool be split amongst the top 30 performing pre-arbitration players based on WAR.

3. It's now a 12-team postseason

Since the creation of the Wild Card Game in 2012, 10 teams have made the postseason each year except the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. That number will now increase to 12 teams. (The owners had pushed for a 14-team format.) The exact details are unknown, but the league had resisted the "ghost win" approach used in Japan and South Korea.

4. There will be rule changes and uniform patches

That aforementioned 2020 season included the universal DH as well. Sure enough, this CBA will make that the new normal, creating 15 new starting jobs for players in the process. As part of the agreement, the league has gained the power to implement rule changes for the 2023 season, including a pitch clock; restrictions on defensive positioning; and the installation of larger bases for health and safety purposes. Two on-field rules from the last two seasons, seven-inning doubleheaders and a runner on second base to begin extra innings, are not part of this new deal.

Tanking has become a hot topic in baseball over the past decade. This CBA will at least try to minimize that behavior by implementing a six-team draft lottery. The CBA also incentivizes teams to promote their best prospects when they're ready, rather than when it is most financially convenient, with draft-pick rewards. Players will also have a limited amount of times they can be optioned in a single season.

In addition to the expanded postseason, the league will be creating a new revenue stream by allowing teams to feature advertisement patches on their jerseys and decals on their helmets, per ESPN.

5. International draft will spur more talks

As mentioned elsewhere, the two sides agreed to continue talking about the international draft, with a late July deadline. If they can agree to a structure, then draft-pick compensation will go out the window. If not, draft-pick compensation will be reactivated and the international amateur process will remain unchanged.

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