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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

November 22, 2011 at 11:19 AM

New CBA contains sweeping changes in draft, playoffs, drug testing

First of all, I don’t think it can be under-estimated how remarkable it is for baseball to have come up with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement without any hint of rancor. As one who lived through the days of constant fighting between owners and union, I never thought I’d see the day where, of all sports, MLB is the one with the most significant labor peace — 21 years without a work stoppage by the time this current five-year agreement expires.

I think major praise is due both sides, particularly to Rob Manfred, the owners negotiator, and Michael Weiner, the head of the union, for finding a way to forge a positive working relationship, and getting a deal done. The sport is much the better for it.

Now, on to the deal. You can find the details here, once you scroll past the P.R. stuff. I’m still trying to digest the implications — and there are a lot of people who don’t like the changes to the draft and international signings, in particular — but I find it quite innovative in some of the solutions they came up with. And it really does include an amazing number of changes in the fabric of the game.

Before I summarize, here is a statement from Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln and team president Chuck Armstrong on the new deal:

“The new collective bargaining agreement is outstanding news for the game of baseball and fans of the game. Major League Baseball and the Players Association are to be applauded for working closely together in a cooperative spirit to make sure there is no interruption to the baseball calendar. Their joint efforts to improve the game, including blood testing for HGH, realignment and the playoff system, are important for the game’s future.

“The agreement also insures 21 straight years of labor peace, and keeps the focus where it should be – on the baseball field. We appreciate the work and leadership of Commissioner Selig and the Players Association.”

Here are some highlights:

1, As has been much rumored, the Astros will officially join the AL West in 2013, at which point interleague games will be played throughout the season. Also, expanded playoffs also becomes official with the addition of a second wild-card team in each league, but no starting date was pinpointed. The wording is “beginning no later than the 2013 postseason…”). Baseball will announce by March 1 whether expanded playoffs will be in place in the upcoming 2012 season. One other thing: The wild-card elimination round will be a one-game playoff.

2, Active roster limits will be 26 for certain regular or split doubleheaders.

3, The draft-pick compensation system for free agents has been revamped. First off, the Elias ranking system, which determined Type A and Type B free agents, has been scrapped. Instead, a compensation system has been put in place only for players who were with their clubs for the entire season, and who are offered a guaranteed one-year contract by their former club equal to the average of the 125 highest paid players from the previous season — about $12 million, from what I understand. The player will have seven days to accept. If he doesn’t, the club that signs a player fitting into that category will forfeit its first-round selection, unless it selects in the top 10; then it will forfeit its second-highest selection in the draft. And the player’s former club will receive a selection at the end of the first round.

4, The so-called “Super Two” arbitration eligibility will be expanded from the top 17 percent of players with more than two years service time to those in the top 22 percent.

5, Minimum salaries will climb from $414,000 in 2011 to $480,000 in 2012; $490,000 in 2013; $500,000 in 2014, COLA in 2015 and 2016. Good work if you can get it.

6, The amateur draft will still be held in June, but the signing deadline moves up to a date between July 22 and July 18, depending on the date of the All-Star Game. I like this — it should get the top players into the minor leagues that year even if they hold out until the deadline (which they will).

7, 2, Sweeping changes in the draft system was one of the prime goals of the owners, who wanted strict salary slotting. They didn’t get it, but the changes are major. A signing bonus pool system has been instituted, where basically teams are told how much money total they are allowed to spend in signing their picks in the first 10 rounds. I won’t go into the gory details, because it’s pretty complicated — you can read about it in the link — but teams that go over their signing bonus pool will lose top draft picks, with the steepest penalty being loss of the first and second round picks in the next two drafts for teams that go 15 percent over the pool.

8, Clubs with the lowest revenues and in the smallest markets can, for the first time, obtain additional draft picks through a lottery. This is innovative, and I’m interested to see how it works in practice.

Here is a good Baseball America summary of the draft changes.

9, Signing of international talent will also be subject to a Signing Bonus Pool, a portion of which can be traded. And teams that exceed their signing bonus pool — $2.9 million next year, according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan — will be penalized with a tax, or more — including loss of the right to provide any player in the next signing period with a bonus in excess of $250,000.

Dave Cameron makes the salient point that this will hurt teams like the Mariners that have an extensive and successful international operation, under the supervision of Bob Engle.

10, Players will be subject to a blood test for hGH for reasonable cause at all times throughout the season. All players will be tested during spring training, and starting with the 2012-13 offseason, players will be subject to random unannounced testing for hGH.

It’s quite a lot to absorb, and I’m going to have to do some digging to see how all this will play out in reality. But I think the fact that a deal got done without even a hint of talk about a work stoppage — in light of what other sports have gone through — is a victory in itself.

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