Friday, December 2, 2016

Some thoughts on the new collective bargaining agreement

It's Dec. 2, and Major League Baseball still is open for business.

Owners and the players union reached an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement four hours before Thursday's midnight deadline, thus averting a potential lockout just days before the winter meetings are scheduled to begin.

A few highlights to note:

Perhaps the most significant change for fans is the fact that the All-Star game no longer "counts." Home-field advantage in the World Series will be awarded to the team with the better regular-season record, not the team that wins the pennant in the league that won the Midsummer Classic.

I have mixed emotions about this change. I agree that home-field advantage should have not been decided by the results of an exhibition game. However, I would like to see the results of interleague play determine home-field advantage in the World Series. There were 300 interleague games played during the 2016 regular season. Don't you think that's a big enough sample size to determine which was the stronger league? (For the record, the American League went 165-135.)

I'd be willing to bet the 94-win, AL champion Cleveland Indians would have won 100 games playing in the National League. In this year's World Series, we saw an injury-depleted Cleveland team push the 103-win, NL champion Cubs to the brink. Chicago was the better team, but not by much, needing extra innings in Game 7 to finally emerge victorious.

Why shouldn't the league that proves itself to be stronger from top to bottom -- this year it was the AL -- over 300 interleague games get home-field advantage for the World Series? I can't think of a reason not to do it that way. That said, I do find giving home-field to the team with the best record far more palatable than having the All-Star Game determine it.

The minimum stay on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10 days. Good change. I'm guessing there are a lot of injuries that take 10 days -- but not 15 -- to heal, and this will make it a little easier to determine the best course of action when a player suffers a relatively minor injury.

The season will last 187 days, instead of 183, starting in 2018. This will allow the players a few more off-days. Opening Day will take place midweek, also starting in 2018, to accommodate the extra days.

The rules have been changed on qualifying offers. A player can't receive it more than once. Teams that lose a free agent who rejects a qualifying offer will still get a draft pick. The pick will depend on the team's market size. This part is clear as mud, so I'll explain it as best I can:

For most teams, that pick would be a sandwich pick immediately after the competitive balance picks that are awarded after the second round. However, if that team comes from the 15 smallest markets and is receiving revenue sharing money, and it loses a free agent who signs a contract worth at least $50 million, that pick would follow the first round. And if the team losing that player is over the luxury tax threshold, the pick would follow the fourth round.

Got it? Me neither. We'll see how it works in practice.

There is no international draft, but spending will be capped. Reports indicate each team will be able to spend $5 million to $6 million a year on international free agents.

Luxury tax thresholds jump from $189 million in the last agreement that ended in 2016, to $195 million in 2017; $197 million in 2018; $206 million in 2019; $209 million in 2020, and; $210 million in 2021.

There will be no 26th man added to the roster, and there were no changes to the September call-up rules. Any player on the 40-man roster still can be recalled when rosters expand in September. This is the part that is most disappointing to me as fan. Why are we playing by one set of rules from April to August, then a completely different set of rules in September, when the pennant races are at their hottest? Makes no sense. Rosters should be set at 25 for all 162 games, or set them at 26. I don't care either way, but it should be consistent.

On the bright side, the deal is done. Labor peace is ensured through 2021 as a result of this five-year agreement. That means baseball will have 27 years of no lockouts and no strikes. Maybe the sport as a whole learned its lesson after the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.

Now, we don't have to spend the rest of the offseason talking solely about labor negotiations. The hot stove discussion that arises during the winter meetings, of course, is far more intriguing.

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