I know we’re a week removed from Thanksgiving, but late on Wednesday night, the MLB Players’ Association and the MLB owners agreed to a new five-year collective bargaining agreement. You can read all the available information about the new pact here; MLB Trade Rumors is updating the page as more information about the new deal becomes available. The new CBA brings about a litany of changes to Major League Baseball, but, unfortunately for Cubs SP Jon Lester, one thing that did not make it into the new agreement was the elimination of pitchers needing to throw over to first. Sorry Jon, maybe you’ll have more luck in 2021.
Changes that were made in the new CBA include (but, as usual, are not limited to): a revamping of the qualifying offer system, a ban on smokeless tobacco for all incoming players (with current players being grandfathered into the system), additional off-days during the season, reduction of the minimum DL time from 15 days to 10, and, perhaps most notably for the average fan, the All-Star game will no longer be played for home-field advantage in the World Series.
The new qualifying offer system is far more complex than the current system from what I understand. The most notable change to the system is that teams will no longer have to forfeit a first-round pick in order to sign a player who declined a qualifying offer, a huge win for the MLBPA and a change that will increase the earning power of free agents. According to Jon Heyman, the current qualifying offer system has cost players somewhere between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in earnings since it was implemented in 2011, so the new system figures to tack on quite a bit of money to each free agent contract. Unfortunately for current free agents who have qualifying offers attached (including Edwin Encarnacion, Dexter Fowler, and Jose Bautista), the new CBA will only affect free agents starting next season, so whichever teams end up signing current free agents with qualifying offers attached will be penalized according to the old CBA (teams signing players with a qualifying offer attached lose their highest unprotected draft pick).
The new system essentially boils down to this: teams who sign free agents that have rejected a qualifying offer will forfeit a 3rd round pick if they are under the luxury tax line (around $195MM this year, increasing to $210MM by the end of the current CBA). As for teams over the threshold, it’s not entirely clear yet how the system will work, though some speculate (FOX Sports reporting here) that teams over the luxury tax line will stand to lose a second and fifth round pick, as opposed to just a third. The new system, as I mentioned before, is a massive win for the players and has the possibility of making baseball more enticing to younger athletes due to the fact that free agents in baseball now have the highest earning power of any sport by a very wide margin.
Also included in the new CBA are more scheduled off days for the players. I don’t really see how this could be a negative for either side of the spectrum; the owners get a longer season which means more revenue and television, and the players get more off days to rest their bodies. It doesn’t amount to much; the season will now be 187 days instead of 183, but this will stop the ridiculous 21 games in 21 days every team typically has to play at least once a season. I always want more baseball, not less, but more days off is a good thing. More rest for the players means better play while they’re playing. This was a solid addition to the new CBA.
The minimum disabled list stint for player is now 10 days instead of 15, so this figures to be beneficial to players and managers alike. Now the waiting period players (and managers) sometimes have to take before deciding whether or not to take a DL stint will likely be eliminated, because ten days is a relatively short time, and considering DL stints can still be backdated to the last day in which a player didn’t play a game, this is another addition which figures to help play. Rosters will likely be more flexible because of the ability of teams to more quickly make a decision on whether players should hit the DL.
All of the above stuff is great, but the change I like most about the new CBA is that the All-Star game doesn’t mean anything. It’s fantastic, and something I’ve been very adamant about for a while (here’s me tweeting about it during a Mets game in 2015, here’s me tweeting about it after Russell got the SS start in 2016 over Seager and Story) so I’m glad the MLB has finally come around. Let me give you a little history about World Series home field advantage and the All-Star game.
In 2002, Brewers owner and baseball commissioner Bud Selig had the privilege of hosting the All-Star game in the relatively new Milwaukee Stadium, Miller Park (it was in its second season). The game ended after 11 innings in a 7-7 tie because neither team had any remaining players on their bench who could pitch in relief. Both teams seriously used all 34 of their players in an 11-inning game. Needless to say, the fans at the game, who paid a pretty penny to get a seat to watch the elite baseball players of the year duke it out were not happy. Beer bottles were thrown on the field to a chorus of boos, and Commissioner Selig had to apologize to the fans. The owners decided that the best way to combat a tie in the future would be to attach World Series home-field advantage to the game (they did this in the 2003 CBA). Since the game now had some stakes attached to it, it couldn’t end in a tie, right?
Right, but it was a ridiculous idea. The fans now got to choose who plays for World Series home-field advantage, not just some meaningless game for the enjoyment of the fans and players. And generally speaking, the managers like to try to use every player they can in the ASG, so doesn’t that mean the managers aren’t really trying to win, rather just trying to get everyone in the game? My thoughts on the matter (as evidenced by the tweets above) is that as long as the game meant home-field advantage in the WS, only the best players should play. Scherzer’s starting? Great, have him go eight innings if he’s effective. Scherzer’s faltering in the 3rd inning? Don’t wait for him to give up runs, put in Lester, deGrom, or Syndergaard and let them clean up the mess. There’s no reason to arbitrarily impose a one-inning limit on pitchers or to make sure everyone gets in the game if you should be trying to win. It means something. Win the damn game.
Thankfully, that shouldn’t be an issue now. The All-Star game is back to the way it should be, with the winner getting pride (and a little bit of money) and the loser still having a great time. And when it’s all over, it doesn’t matter. The team with the better record gets home-field advantage in the World Series, because they’re the better team, not because some arbitrary one-off three months before the game had that predetermined. And while it’s probably not the most relevant change to players, this change makes me happier than any other part of the agreement. And that’s what baseball is all about for the fans: making people happy.
It would also make me happy if the Mets won a World Series. Soon…
(Image Credit: Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press)