The collective soul of baseball fans sighed in relief yesterday around 12:15pm Pacific Time as reports of a tentative agreement between MLB and the Players Association first circulated on Twitter.
The slow burn of the lockout through December and January turned into a roaring blaze in late February and into early March. A week of canceled games. No, two weeks of canceled games. A full season is no longer possible. Oh wait, we’ll have Opening Day on April 7th and a full season is possible. Anyone else have whiplash? I know my neck hurts.
But now the agreement has been ratified by both a unanimous vote of approval among the owners and a split 26-12 vote among the players. The good news is this will bring the Oakland Athletics into our homes April 8th when they take on the Phillies at Philadelphia.
The details of this agreement represent a relative middle ground between the original demands of the owners and the MLBPA. However, in this viewer’s assessment, the MLBPA won only modest changes and most of the new terms should favor the A’s ability to compete.
A couple of great summaries of the deal have been presented by Mark Feinsand at MLB.com and Alden Gonzalez at ESPN. Let’s run down some of the basic points of the negotiation over the last three months:
Competitive Balance Tax (CBT)
The previous threshold for taxation was $210M. Approximately a month ago, the MLBPA was asking for a $245M threshold, while MLB was asking for $220M. The final figure for the CBT is $230M in 2022, which means the players conceded slightly more than the owners. The threshold increases by an average of 1.5% per year through 2026, up to $244M in the final year of the deal.
Estimated league revenues have ballooned in recent years and total payrolls have remained relatively flat since approximately 2017. If the CBT was keeping pace with these revenues, then we’d have a tax threshold of at least $250M or even up to $300M.
Analysis: From an A’s fan perspective, the CBT isn’t directly relevant since the team’s payroll will never approach the threshold. However, seeing the CBT fail to keep up with revenues and inflation is all well and good for Oakland, because a lower cap will limit other teams and thus help suppress the market on low and mid-level free agents.
The MLBPA had been fighting for a $775K minimum salary, while the owners had spent time arguing for small changes to the previous salary of $570K (starting at $600K in their December offer and later bumped to a flat $630K). The final agreed-upon numbers come in at $700K and will escalate to $780K by 2026. In my view, this is the most significant win by the MLBPA, and we discussed the topic here at Athletics Nation last month.
Analysis: This increase in the minimum salary is also one of the few actions that will have a noticeable effect on the budget-limited A’s, by forcing them to pay their league-minimum players some 23% more this coming year. That will cost Oakland about $2M in 2022 by my estimates, for raises to 15 or so players.
This is brand new to the 2022 CBA and a modest win for the MLBPA. However, at $50M, or just a $1.67M contribution per team, the total amount doesn’t move the needle very far in the face of approximately $350M average yearly revenue per team. This bonus pool will also get divided up among 100 players not yet eligible for arbitration. Many of the details are still getting worked out, but it appears that a small number of players accumulating awards and high statistical marks could take home large fractions of the pool.
Analysis: From the A’s perspective, the $1.67M is similar to the cost of the increase in the minimum salary. However, the two together don’t add up to more than $4M and aren’t likely to cause a budgetary problem.
The MLBPA folded completely on this issue and no changes will be made to the new CBA. First, MLBPA wanted most players with two years of service time to reach arbitration (80% of them, in fact), then they asked for 35%, and then on February 28th they dropped the issue all together.
I ran through some of the math on the impact of most players reaching Super Two status a week ago, and I suspect the owners did too — pushing most players into arbitration a year earlier would have drastic implications on payrolls over time. But instead of fighting the good fight, and getting productive young players paid, the Players Association caved.
Analysis: This is a very important win for the A’s. Players like Sean Murphy or Ramon Laureano are not going to suddenly get drastically more expensive in the near future, at least not beyond the normal timeline we’ve come to expect.
While national MLB press haven’t reported on this much, Susan Slusser and Matt Kawahara of the SF Chronicle are drawing attention to the big news locally: the Oakland Athletics will again be the recipient of revenue sharing money after getting slowly weaned off of it under the previous CBA.
Analysis: How much extra funds will be available to the A’s, and when, hasn’t yet been reported, but under the previous CBA the A’s received $34M in revenue sharing money in 2016. There is good reason to doubt how much of that money will be funneled back into the team — the MLBPA did not drop their grievance against the A’s for misuse of revenue sharing money as part of this CBA. Hopefully, the A’s will not want to lose this money again and maybe we’ll see a spike in payroll as soon as this year.
Welcome to the NFL system! We now have 12 playoff teams. The postseason tournament will have the top two division winners receive a first-round bye. The third-best division winner and three wild card teams will face off in a pair of three-game series — all of the games taking place at the higher seed’s home park.
Analysis: Given the state of the A’s finances and continued dominance of the Astros in the AL West, this expansion will greatly impact the A’s ability to earn a playoff berth, if they choose to compete in the near future.
Eat your heart out, purists! The National League is now going to adopt the designated hitter rule.
Analysis: Though directly impacting the other league, this is also a win for the A’s. They may look to trade two notable players this winter, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, who could now displace lesser defenders at their positions on whichever team they may land. That opens up new trade options and potential suitors who might not have had room in their lineup for a Matt otherwise. Plus, who likes watching pitchers hit?
The top six draft picks will now be awarded to the bottom six non-playoff teams by lottery. Small-market teams drafting in the lottery for two years will be limited to the 10th pick on the third year. For large-market teams, that’s limited to only one year in the lottery, then the 10th pick in the second year. Large and small market teams will be determined by their revenue sharing status.
Analysis: If the A’s go into tank-mode, then their new revenue-sharing recipient status allows them the potential to stay in the lottery an extra year. However, even in tank-mode, the A’s rarely finish among the league’s absolute worst teams, and they rarely stay that bad for more than a couple years in a row. But a bottom-6 finish isn’t out of the question and would give them a shot at the highest draft slots — in fact, considering they haven’t picked higher than No. 6 since 1998, perhaps an occasional entry in the lottery could end up helping them move up the draft order.
Some Other Changes
Option limits. Players can now only be optioned five times in a year. Depending how fully the A’s rebuild this year, they could have lots of players frequently moving up and down, so we’ll see how this affects their strategies and flexibility.
Rookie of the year incentives. The top two vote getters for the Rookie of the Year Award will receive an extra year of service time. Also, clubs will receive extra draft picks if they promote young players to their Opening Day roster who then go on to finish in the Top 3 in the Rookie of the Year voting or Top 5 in the MVP or Cy Young voting. The A’s have had the third-most ROTYs in MLB history, including three already this century, so don’t be surprised if we see this new rule in action here in Oakland.
International Draft. A new international draft could be established as soon as this year. If it is, it will mean the elimination of the draft pick compensation system for players that receive a qualifying offer. The A’s never issued a QO under the recent system, and usually aren’t in play for top free agents who did get QOs, so that doesn’t affect Oakland much, but an international draft will be highly relevant to every team.
Rule changes. A committee will be formed to look into adopting new rules relating to pitch clocks, base sizes, automated ball and strike calls, banning shifts, and possibly more. This will begin next year. Also related to this, MLB can now implement rule changes more quickly. Previously, the players required one year of notice, but that has been reduced to 45 days.
Advertisements. Team uniforms can now include advertisements in the form of patches on jerseys or decals on helmets.
Balanced Schedule. Starting next year, every team will play at least one series against every other team. I look forward to fewer games against the Mariners, but it will come at the cost of increased travel.
More details may come to light in the next few days, but these larger impact items should generally help A’s during this tenuous time before their next ballpark is finished.