NEW YORK — Baseball is back in business.
After a 99-day work stoppage — the sport’s first in 26 years — Major League Baseball owners and players reached an accord Thursday on a new five-year collective bargaining agreement.
The deal on the CBA came down to the wire, angering fans along the way, but in the end MLB will still be able to squeeze in a 162-game regular season. Opening Day is scheduled for April 7.
The deal ends an owner-imposed lockout that began Dec. 2. It is the product of prolonged and acrimonious negotiations that revolved around the players seeking a greater share of the sport’s increasing revenues after watching salaries stagnate in recent years.
Each side won enough of what they wanted to walk away at least somewhat satisfied. Owners got expanded playoffs, while players got big raises on minimum salaries and increases to competitive-balance tax thresholds and better anti-tanking measures.
There was a split vote within union ranks: All eight union leaders voted against the pact, but enough of the 30 team representatives voted for it, passing it by a 26-12 vote. Later Thursday, the owners ratified the deal with a 30-0 vote.
“I am genuinely thrilled to say major league baseball is back and we’re going to play 162 games,” commissioner Rob Manfred said at MLB headquarters after the ratification vote. He added an apology to fans “at a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world.”
Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said the players remained “engaged and unified from beginning to end” before ultimately voting for the pact. “Our union endured the second-longest work stoppage in its history to achieve significant progress in key areas that will improve not just current players’ rights and benefits, but those of generations to come.”
Manfred acknowledged he has to improve his poor reputation among players.
“One of the things I’m supposed to do is promote a good relationship with our players,” he said. “I’ve tried to do that. I have not been successful at that. It begins with small steps. It’s why, after the ratification, I picked up the phone and called Tony,”
The dispute interrupted the familiar rhythm of spring training, which did not start as usual in mid-February, and infuriated fans unable to relate to the big-dollar squabbling that threatened to ruin their spring, summer, and fall.
Spring training games will begin March 17 or 18.
Spring training camps in Florida and Arizona are expected to open immediately, with players on 40-man rosters joining minor leaguers already at camps. Spring training will be abbreviated — about 3½ weeks long instead of the usual six.
Sunday is the mandatory reporting date for players.
MLB canceled the first two series of the original schedule while negotiations dragged on. One will be added to the end of the season, with the other made up on off days or with nine-inning doubleheaders.
The final games of the regular season will be played by Oct. 5.
As soon as Thursday night, a frenzied bazaar of free agent signings and trades can begin, as teams vie to fill out their rosters after losing out on December’s hot-stove season.
In addition to significantly higher minimum salaries and higher competitive-balance tax thresholds, players won the awarding of service time to four rookies (the two top finishers in each league in Rookie of the Year voting), draft pick incentives for teams who call up pre-arbitration players, and new pre-arbitration bonus pools and draft lottery structures.
The owners get the expanded playoffs they wanted — a 12-team format — as well as the opportunity to negotiate for an international draft later this summer.
The National League will now employ a designated hitter, as the American League has done since 1973.
▪ The first six picks of the draft will be subject to a lottery, meant to decrease tanking, a concern of the players.
▪ Rule changes can begin in the 2023 season. There will be a 45-day window for MLB to implement any rule, subject to approval from a competition committee that includes multiple players and one umpire.
▪ There will be a new fourth surcharge tacked on to the first CBT threshold.
▪ The grievance filed by the union over the pandemic-shortened 2020 season was dropped, but existing ones about revenue-sharing were not.
▪ Teams that bring up pre-arbitration players who finish in top five of Cy Young or MVP voting will get draft pick rewards.
The talks featured substantial bickering, although the rhetoric never publicly reached the fiery heights that accompanied the intense talks before the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
The lockout began in Dallas, where owners and players ran out the clock on the last CBA during face-to-face negotiations.
On Dec. 2, commissioner Rob Manfred said the lockout was being used as a maneuver to add urgency to the talks in order to prevent the “disastrous” outcome of lost games, but MLB did not present a proposal to the players until 43 days after the lockout began.
Nine days of negotiations in Jupiter, Fla., ended last week in failure, with Manfred announcing that a deadline for playing a 162-game schedule had passed and he was canceling the first two series of the season.
When talks resumed in New York this week, MLB said there was still time to play a full schedule and issued a new deadline (Tuesday) to reach a deal.
That deadline plus an extension came and went. Manfred announced Wednesday that the first four series of the season would be scratched.
Not long after that pronouncement, word came that the sides were still talking about an international draft and draft compensation, two issues MLB wanted cleared up. They ended that logjam Thursday morning and proceeded to close out the remaining issues until the deal was reached.
More labor stories
- Where things stood as of Wednesday night.
- Christopher L. Gasper: MLB owners are turning capitalism on its head in these labor negotiations.
- On Baseball: MLB owners and the players union strike out again. Baseball has already lost.
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.