NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball players and owners ended their toughest financial fight in a quarter-century on Thursday when the players’ association accepted management’s offer to salvage a season of 162 matches which will begin on April 7.
The work stoppage ended at 7 p.m. sharp, ending an acrimonious 99-day lockout that delayed spring training and threatened to cancel regular season games for the first time since 1995.
Training camps in Florida and Arizona will open on Friday, with players required to report by Sunday. Opening day has been pushed back just over a week from its March 31 date, but all that could be forgotten when Yankees judge Aaron digs in against the Red Sox rival, or Shohei Ohtani avoid the new universal designated hitter and play it both ways for the Angels.
“I want to start by apologizing to our fans,” commissioner Rob Manfred said, his voice shaking at times, adding later: “I hope the players will see the effort we have made to address their concerns. in this agreement like an olive branch in terms of building a better relationship.
We expected a frenzy of free action. A trading freeze on the roster was dissolved on Thursday night, sparking a flurry of speculation over new homes for Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman and more than 100 other free agents who had been kept in lockdown limbo.
The agreement brings major changes which include the expansion of the DH to the National League, the increase of the playoffs from 10 teams to 12, advertisements on the uniforms, a balanced schedule which reduces intra-division play from 2023 and measures to encourage competition and reduce reconstruction, such as as an amateur lottery. Most of the labor struggle, of course, centered around the core game economy.
The players’ executive council approved the five-year contract around 3 p.m. in a 26-12 vote. The owners ratified the deal 30-0 just three hours later, and just like that, the ninth stoppage baseball work has come to an end.
Not that everything is resolved. Union leader Tony Clark did not appear alongside Manfred and scheduled a separate press conference for Friday in a visible sign of the sport’s factions.
“Our union has endured the second-longest work stoppage in its history to make meaningful progress in key areas that will not only improve the rights and benefits of current players, but those of generations to come,” Clark said in a statement.
Manfred pledged “perhaps to get to the bottom of players’ concerns more regularly so they don’t pile up”.
“I spoke to Tony after their ratification vote. I told him I thought we had a great opportunity for the game ahead of us. Manfred said. “One of the things I’m supposed to do is promote a good relationship with our players. I tried to do that. I think I failed at that. I think it starts with small steps.
Player photos that had been deleted from the league’s website have been restored. Teams tweeted videos and statements celebrating the end of the lockdown and sharing ticket information for the new opening day.
The 184 games canceled by Manfred were instead postponed and the regular season was extended by three days until October 5. Approximately three matches per team will be composed as part of doubleheaders.
With pitchers Max Scherzer and Andrew Miller playing a prominent role as union spokespersons, the players let three management deadlines pass – Manfred called them “the art of collective bargaining” – before accept a deal before the fourth.
While the union’s executive subcommittee voted 8-0 against the deal — all earned $3.5 million or more last year — player representatives were in favor 26-4.
“Time and economic leverage. No deal materializes until those two things happen,” Manfred said. “I think we made a deal when it was possible to make a deal.”
After closing the economic gap this week, MLB made another offer Thursday afternoon, saying it was the absolute last moment to preserve full salary and service time.
“The deal moves the game forward,” Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole, a member of the union’s executive subcommittee, said in a phone interview with the AP. “It touches on a lot of things players in the game should focus on: the aspect of competitive integrity.”
In particular, the union wanted to increase the wages of young players and encourage teams not to delay their debuts in order to push back against free will.
Under the new post-season format, two division winners from each league receive first-round byes and the remaining four teams play in a best-of-three wild card round.
The deal allows teams to advertise uniforms and helmets for the first time and established an MLB-dominated fast-track rules committee that could recommend a launch clock and limits on defensive changes from 2023.
The luxury tax threshold rises from $210 million last year to $230 million this season, the biggest annual increase since the restriction began in 2003. The threshold rises to $242 million by 2026, an easing for the biggest spenders such as the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Red Sox. The 3% annual growth is well above the 2.1% of the expired contract and the 1.2% of the 2011 agreement.
The tax rates remain unchanged at the initial threshold, at the second and third thresholds. A new fourth threshold, aimed at billionaire New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, starts $80 million above the first and has rates of 80% for the first offender, 90% for the second and 110% for the third.
The minimum wage is rising from $570,500 to $700,000 this year, a 22.7% increase that is the highest since 2003, with annual increases of $20,000 each season.
A new $50 million bonus pool has been created for players not yet eligible for arbitration, a way to boost the salaries of young stars.
While teams held on to a full regular season, the cost was a rancor that made owners and players obsessed with money. Spring training has been halted for the third consecutive year after two exhibition seasons altered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“People can go to the ballpark. It will help,” Cole said. “Maybe some people will go to the stadium to tell us how they feel negatively. It is also their right to do so. I will say that no one wants it to happen like this. And some of the hurdles we’ve had to jump over the past few weeks haven’t necessarily been ill will, but simply due process.
“It’s just a very democratic process and some of these kinds of things take time. But I think everyone is extremely excited to come back and extremely excited to come back in front of the fans.