Major League Baseball, led by Bud Selig and the owners, and the players association, led by the players, has reached an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement that will last until 2016. Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the changes to the new CBA I want to congratulate the players and and owners for ensuring that baseball will continue to be played without a work stoppage. Baseball has continued to grow every season and remains America's pastime. For it to be the only major sport in the U.S. not to have a strike since the 1990's constitutes an impressive accomplishment.
The new collective bargaining agreement contains some interesting changes. One of the most recent intense debates in the baseball world has concerned the use or disuse of instant replay. The new CBA stipulates that instant replay will expand its purview. Pending an agreement with the umpires union, the new owners and players have agreed to use instant replay in situations of fair/foul calls and in cases of a "trapped" ball. I am a proponent of expanding instant replay. If we have the technology and we truly love the game we should want to get the call right, no matter what. I agree that utilizing umpires keeps the human element as part of baseball, but allowing the umpires some assistance adds to the game's legitimacy. No one will forget the no-call that disallowed Armando Gallaraga's perfect game. Interestingly, these new changes will not govern a play similar to the one in Gallaraga's imperfect game, but they do illustrate a move in the right direction.
Another important change covered in the CBA also refers to a hot-button issue: performance enhancing drugs. The new CBA calls for drug testing of the top 200 amateur prospects as well as blood testing for human growth hormone. HGH has been recently publicized as rampant throughout baseball. Previously there was no definitive test for HGH but blood testing has proven effective. The owners finally convinced the players union to allow their members to be blood tested in addition to the urine test which they were subjected to previously. Following the testing the samples will be disposed of. Players are subjected to be tested at random for HGH in spring training and after that players can only be tested for just cause.
Tobacco has become an important topic in baseball circles. Large numbers of players chew tobacco, which can lead to esophageal, tongue, and mouth cancer. MLB sent a message to the country in the new agreement by banning the use of smokeless tobacco during any on-camera moments. A player should be allowed to chew tobacco, but by doing so on TV he advertises its use. This new directive is aimed at discouraging children from picking up unhealthy habits. Players are role models and should act as such through their play, attitude, and their health habits.
Other important changes in the new collective bargaining agreement concern free agents and the draft. Under the new agreement, contracts for amateurs have undergone adjustments. Each team, depending on regular season record, with the teams that win more getting less money and the teams who win less getting more money, will receive a stipend or signing bonus pool that can then be spent on signing top free agents. Teams with higher pools will find it easier to sign their top draft picks and thus rebuild their farm systems, while consistently competitive teams will have to use other methods to sign coveted youngsters. The same bonus pool system will apply to international amateurs, those players whose nationality is of a country other than the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, or other U.S. territories and who have not attended a U.S. high school or college. Teams like the Rangers, Reds, and Rays have recently signed a number of highly touted international players by spending more money on them. These teams have benefited from this increase in spending, using it to compete with bigger market teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Giants. The changes lessen but do not erase this advantage.
One inherent problem with bonus pools for signing amateurs regards two or multi-sport athletes. Money remains a significant reason for multi-sport athletes to choose baseball over football, basketball, and hockey. If MLB decreases the ability of teams to spend lots of money on signing bonuses then some players who excel more than one sport may be persuaded to play another sport instead of baseball.
Two other minor but interesting changes in the new CBA include a minimum salary increase for first-year players as well as the elimination of the Elias sports rankings for free agents. No longer will players be classified as type-A or type-B free agents according to Elias. Instead, the decision to award compensatory draft picks for losing a free agent will be determined by the amount of money per year in the free agent's new contract. Teams offering a contract to a free agent that has a value greater than $12.4 million per season will receive a first-round draft pick as compensation. $12.4 million is the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players in the league. Teams that finish in the bottom 15 teams in the regular season will not have to forfeit a draft pick for signing a free agent for more than $12.4 million per season. I think this change serves a purpose, in that it rids the league of the arbitrary Elias sports rankings and implements a system that can change as contracts do. The new system will most likely need tweaking, but theoretically it seems more beneficial than the old system.
Additionally, new CBA realigns the league as well as changes the playoff system. The players and owners announced that the Houston Astros, under new owner Jim Crane, will be moving to the American League West beginning in 2013. This will leave 6 divisions with 5 teams in each. Each league will have 15 teams, which creates some scheduling problems. In the new vision, there would have to be an inter league series played at all times because each league has an odd number of teams instead of an even number. The new realignment means more inter league games, something which does not excite me. Inter league play is fun but nothing in baseball creates more excitement than a division race with playoff implications. It is more important that teams within each division play themselves more often than teams from different leagues playing each other. As a Phillies fan, I would rather see more games against the Mets, Braves, Marlins, and Nationals, than games against the Red Sox, Royals, or Mariners. This change may eventually lead to the elimination of the pitcher from hitting, even in the National League. The DH may soon be introduced in the NL because owners and managers will not want to sit their DH's for more games being played in NL parks. This distresses me even more because I am completely against the designated hitter.
Finally, the new CBA also calls for an eventual expansion of the playoffs to include one more wild card in each league. I cannot begin to articulate the stupidity of expanding the playoffs. With advanced metrics taking over the baseball world, influencing the valuation of players, teams, and even statistics, devaluing the regular season seems ludicrous. It is now possible that the 5th best team in either league could not only win their league's pennant, but the World Series. The 5th best teams in the NL and AL respectively in 2011 were the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox. Both teams experienced infamous collapses. Neither team deserved to make the playoffs. This change will add more games to the playoffs, which already last till the end of October. MLB owners will make more money due to this change; no other legitimate reason could be found other than the obvious monetary incentive. Currently the 8th best team could win the World Series; under the new agreement the 10th best team in the league could do so. I understand the odds are against the 9th and 10th best teams, but with the Cardinals winning two World Series with teams that won 90 or fewer games many fans already see the playoff system as completely random instead of rewarding the teams with the best regular season records. Inflating the playoff system will only prove to further dilute the talent pool in the playoffs.
The latest collective bargaining agreement encompasses some powerful changes to Major League Baseball. The most comforting piece of information to come out of this agreement is that baseball will be played through 2016 and that both the players association and owners agreed to all of these changes. Although both sides have agendas, I trust that both the owners and players want to uphold the integrity of the game despite the possible flaws in the new agreement. Both sides have the best intentions of the league at heart. The announcement of the new CBA perfectly exemplifies the importance of the off-season. The off-season contains great excitement and importance, something extremely evident in the new collective bargaining agreement.