FORT MYERS, Fla. — Baseball is back, the welcome news coming Thursday afternoon that the players and owners finally agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Players will start reporting to spring training on Friday and you can expect a blizzard of transactions in the coming days. The schedule will be amended to play all 162 games.
Opening Day will be April 7 and for the Red Sox that means a game against the Yankees in the Bronx.
Fantastic. Hang the bunting and line the basepaths. Play ball.
Just one question: Why did this take 99 days?
You would think three-plus months of contentious negotiations and canceling a big chunk of spring training must have generated major changes in the structure of the game. But it really didn’t.
Younger players will receive higher salaries, correcting what was a clear inequity. The minimum salary will go up to $700,000 and the best young players will get bonus payments.
Teams will be able to spend more before being penalized by the competitive balance tax, which falls in line with the game’s rising revenues.
There will be a universal DH, which is probably five years overdue. Watching pitchers try to hit had become painful and playing World Series games under two sets of rules was absurd.
Two more teams will make the playoffs, which isn’t necessary but isn’t awful. There also will be a six-team draft lottery, which should cut down on teams tanking for the first or second overall pick. That was something that clearly needed to happen, too.
There also are measures to discourage service-time manipulation, which again only made sense. Even the executives who held worthy players back in the minors to cheat them out of becoming free agents in six years admitted it was a rotten thing to do.
Couldn’t this have all been wrapped up by early February? What was so earth-shaking that we all had to sit through a month of phony deadlines, media spin, competing statements, and false hopes?
The players clawed back some money and that will surely irritate some miserly small-market owners. But none of them will suffer in the slightest. They’ll cash in on streaming rights, legalized gambling, NFTs, and expansion over the course of the five-year deal.
Baseball left the important stuff on the table. Changes to improve the pace of play and amount of action on the field won’t be discussed until next year when a seven-person committee will make decisions on a pitch clock, shifts, and other new rules.
The adjustments to the financial structure won’t matter over the long term if baseball doesn’t improve the product it’s trying to sell the public. The game should be fun to watch, not a chore.
It’s a relief that the owners and players finally agreed to a new CBA. But this process laid bare the distrust and contempt in that relationship.
Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged his failings in that regard.
“One of the things I’m supposed to do is promote a good relationship with our players. I’ve tried to do that. I have not been successful at that,” he said.
For now, enjoy the coming weeks as teams rush to take care of all the business on hold since Dec. 2 when the owners locked out the players.
Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Clayton Kershaw, and Trevor Story are still free agents, and the payroll-slashing Oakland Athletics figure to make players such as Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Sean Manaea available.
Japanese star outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who has been waiting since December to pick a team, will finally fulfill his dream of going to the majors.
After a cold winter for ticket sales, the market may not be welcoming to second-tier free agents and creative teams could supplement their roster in unexpected and inexpensive ways.
The Red Sox fell two games shy of the World Series last season and are positioned to make a big financial move if Chaim Bloom feels now is the time after two years of carefully resetting the roster and farm system.
But even absent that big splash, the Sox need bullpen help, a corner outfielder, and an infielder capable of playing second base.
It will be fun seeing what happens before Opening Day. After a winter of frustrating inaction in conference rooms, the focus will back on the field where it belongs.
Red Sox-Yankees on April 7. Can’t wait.