SBD/November 21, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLB, Players Shake On New CBA That Brings Sweeping Changes To The League

Selig was particularly keen on creating spending restraints on incoming players
MLB and the MLBPA have come to a handshake agreement on a new five-year labor deal, and are now still working out final details and drafting documents in advance of a planned signing and formal announcement on Tuesday, according to industry sources. The new deal, as expected, primarily builds on the current, now-expiring pact, with several key refinements. Among them, MLB will begin blood testing for HGH, a marked reversal of course for a union that once fiercely opposed any collection of player blood. But the league last year implemented a blood-based HGH program for the affiliated minor leagues with few operational hiccups, and in August notably drew a positive test by former MLBer Mike Jacobs, helping elevate the issue. Provisions around the first-year entry draft, perhaps the most publicly discussed during negotiations, will change markedly with the elimination of existing draft pick slotting system. It will be replaced with a tax structure that penalizes teams for going over a total sum for draft picks, with the tax to begin at $0.75 for every dollar beyond the threshold. A taxation system also will be implemented on international signings. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig had been particularly keen on creating spending restraints on incoming players that arrived either through the draft or as an overseas free agent. And, of course, the shift of the Astros to the AL and the addition of a second wild card team in each league was announced last week following MLB owners meetings. The new labor deal additionally includes a hike in the minimum player salary from $414,000 in '11 to $480,000 next year, and ultimately to $500,000 per year. With the new pact, covering the '12-16 seasons, MLB will have ensured 21 straight years of labor peace, unprecedented since the creation of the MLBPA in '66 (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).

THE WINDS OF CHANGE: The AP's Ronald Blum noted there also are "modifications to baseball's revenue-sharing formula and to its benefit plan" (AP, 11/19). ESPN.com noted the agreement "also will lead to significant changes to the schedule, free agency, the draft, the signing of international players, revenue sharing and the so-called 'competitive balance tax.'" The changes are the "most numerous since the 1997 agreement that came nearly two years after a 7½-month strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series" (ESPN.com, 11/20). In N.Y., Michael Schmidt noted MLB will be the "first of the major North American professional sports to do any type of blood testing for drugs at a league's highest level" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/20). On Long Island, Ken Davidoff noted the agreement "marks a coup for commissioner Bud Selig, who took a great deal of grief earlier in his tenure for the sport's failure to control illegal performance-enhancing drug use." Selig and the union "quietly made this leap, whereas the National Football League has boasted of adding HGH testing but has been unable to actually do so" (NEWSDAY, 11/20).

CREDIT ALL AROUND: In Chicago, Phil Rogers writes the players "will deserve a ton of credit if they really are rolling up their sleeves and giving blood to get" HGH testing done (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/21). NEWSDAY's Davidoff noted in the new CBA, Selig "took steps to mitigate baseball's two most glaring, institutionalized inadequacies." By announcing the "addition of a second wild-card team, Selig helped bridge the huge payroll disparity that still exists." By switching the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West, "creating a balance of 15 teams in each league starting in 2013, the commissioner set in motion hope for schedule equity" (NEWSDAY, 11/20). In N.Y., Joel Sherman wrote the addition of two wild-card teams "is the proper decision because it gives greater advantages to division winners and, particularly, to the teams with the best records in each league." But Sherman writes the format "should be a best-of-three wild-card round rather than the single-game elimination almost certain to be installed" (N.Y. POST, 11/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan wrote, "So much of baseball’s current labor détente, in fact, came from the ’94 strike that the game is beginning to approach the point where the unthinkable becomes a legitimate question: Was losing the ’94 World Series worth everything that came after?" Passan: "Baseball, amazing enough, is the bastion of labor peace in sports. And hopefully the strike to end all strikes really, truly was" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/18). In Boston, Peter Abraham writes after the "shameful events [of] 1994, the owners and players have gotten it right." With the "added wild cards, new stadiums around the game and compelling division races, it's a healthy sport and we can all celebrate that" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/21).

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