The owners and players have a tentative five-year labor deal that will go through the 2021 season, and Cubs starter Jon Lester is happy with the agreement even if his primary request wasn't granted:
While my efforts to eliminate pitchers from having to throw to 1B didnt pass, I'm proud of the PA & Owners for coming together on a new CBA!— Jon Lester (@JLester34) December 1, 2016
OK, so pitchers can still throw over to first base. Here are some of the other key provisions we've seen reported:
Old rule: A team giving a qualifying offer to one of its free agents would receive a pick between the first and second rounds if it lost that free agent to another team. (The top 10 first-round picks were protected.)
New rule: Details are still being worked out, but what we've learned: (A) Only teams losing a player who signs a $50 million contract will receive compensation; (B) teams that have exceeded the luxury tax threshold and sign another team's player who received the qualifying offer will surrender second- and fifth-round picks, plus $1 million in international pool money; but (C) if a club hasn't exceeded the tax threshold and signs another team's player who received the qualifying offer, it will surrender a third-round pick.
Assessment: Score one for the players, as tying free agents to first-round picks limited the demand for all but the very elite players. For example, Mark Trumbo is still operating under the old rules this offseason. The Orioles gave him a qualifying offer, but because a signing team could lose a first-round pick, the interest in Trumbo won't be what it otherwise would be in a completely open market. This helps players like him while also potentially bringing more teams into the bidding for free agents.
A major flaw in the previous system was that a team with a bottom-10 record had a big advantage over a team with the 11th-worst record. The 10th-worst team would keep its first-round pick while the 11th-worst team would lose its pick if it signed a premium free agent. Likewise, the 11th pick in the draft is much more valuable than the 30th. Eliminating first-round picks from the compensation system makes things a little more even for all teams.
The small-market teams are still protected as well. If a team that receives revenue sharing loses a free agent who signs for at least $50 million, that team will receive a bonus pick after the first round. This seems like a win-win for both parties.
Luxury tax threshold goes up
Old rule: The threshold in 2016 was $189 million.
New rule: It increases to $195 million in 2017 and goes up to $210 million by 2021.
Assessment: Beyond that, the penalties for exceeding the threshold increase in severity. The first time a team faces a 20 percent penalty on the overage. The next time it's 30 percent, and it's 50 percent for a third time. Then there are surtaxes:
Between $20 million and $40 million over the threshold: 12 percent
$40 million over: 42.5 percent
Second time $40 million over: 45 percent
Score one for the owners (unless you own the Dodgers, Yankees or Red Sox or a couple of other teams), as the luxury tax thresholds didn't increase all that much, so while it's not a hard salary cap, the new penalties are severe enough that teams -- even the rich kids -- are going to be extremely reluctant to go $40 million over. Some will say the players are getting screwed over here as their percentage of revenue has been in decline. As I wrote here about the luxury tax, Brett Cecil just signed a $30 million contract. It's hard to feel too sorry for the players.
No international draft
Old rule: No draft. The Phillies had the highest international pool money last season at $5.6 million, and teams could exceed their allotted money but would pay a penalty.
New rule: Still no draft. Pool money will reportedly be hard-capped in the $5 million to $6 million range per team.
Assessment: The owners and commissioner Rob Manfred wanted a draft, but the players -- with stars like Robinson Cano speaking out against it -- rejected the idea. The owners gave in but managed to keep a hard cap on spending, eliminating some of the loopholes and rules that allowed the Red Sox, for example, to sign Yoan Moncada for $31.5 million.
So the union is still selling out the young Latin players to some extent, hoping the owners will reinvest some of that money into the major league payroll.
Slot money goes down for No. 1 pick in the U.S. draft
Old rule: The No. 1 overall pick in 2016 was slotted at $9.015 million.
New rule: The No. 1 overall pick in 2017 will be slotted at $7.4 million.
Assessment: The overall pool money will remain unchanged, but as Rany Jazayerli pointed out on Twitter, this should disincentivize teams from tanking (at least a little). What teams with the No. 1 pick had been doing was signing that player for less money than the slot figure, giving them money to spend elsewhere in the draft. Most notably, the Astros signed Carlos Correa for $4.8 million compared to his slot value of $7.2 million, which gave them extra money to draft and sign Lance McCullers later in the draft.
With the slot money for the top picks lowered and redistributed, the draft pools given to each club shouldn't have such a wide range, or conceivably give the teams at the top of the draft less money. In 2016, pool money ranged from $13.9 million for the Reds to $2.2 million for the Cubs. We'll have to wait for the details, but anything that discourages tanking is a good thing.
No 26th roster spot
Old rule: 25-man active roster
New rule: 25-man active roster
Assessment: I loved the idea of expanding rosters to give teams more flexibility and depth. Maybe the agreement will be amended in the future to bring this into play.
September roster rules
Old rule: Up to 40 players active!
New rule: The same
Assessment: You're either indifferent with this or you just checked your copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia. (That's an old reference for you kids; back in the old days you used to have to look up statistics in a book.)
Old rule: Minimum stay was 15 days (except for the seven-day concussion list).
New rule: Minimum stay is 10 days.
Assessment: Excellent rule. It will lead to more roster maneuverings -- perhaps one reason the 26th-man roster move wasn't agreed upon -- but I like the idea that if a player sprains his ankle and is going to miss a week, a team doesn't have to either (A) play a man short for a week, or (B) disable a player for longer than necessary. It's also a little easier with this rule to stash a pitcher who has a tired arm or sore elbow or something, where he can go on the DL and miss one or two starts, and maybe that will prevent a few injuries.
The season will last four days longer
Old rule: 162 games!
New rule: Still 162 games!
Assessment: But the season will start four days earlier, giving the players a few additional off days during the season. At least the games will start earlier instead of pushing the playoffs back even deeper into November. In the past, Manfred has discussed cutting the season down to 154 games, but you can imagine how the owners feel about cutting four games of revenue. I still think the season lasts too long, and while the weather hasn't affected recent World Series too much (it was unseasonably warm in Chicago this year, in particular), playoff weather can still be problematic, as it was in Detroit in 2012. There will also be more day games when teams have long flights to follow. This seems like a small win for the players, but they'll tell you it's a big win. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports also reports that every home clubhouse must have a chef and that spring training buses must have two seats for each player.
See, it's not always about money!