Black Friday special – My Two Cents on the MLB agreement

25 11 2011

A few days ago, Play At the Plate had a good post that outlined the changes in the CBA that MLB and the Players Association agreed to.  Brian suggested doing our own post – and I’m going to take him up on that suggestion.

First and foremost – I think it’s worth pointing out and celebrating the fact that Major League Baseball got this agreement way before there was any question of potential work stoppages.  This was a year where the NFL got incredibly close to losing some games – which seems unbelievable considering the money the league is making as the current king of American entertainment.  The NBA is also in the middle of losing games to a much more debilitating stoppage that I also think is a more sensible one – unlike the NFL’s money-making juggernaut, basketball’s system is most certainly broken.  All of this happens while the country is in a very long recession – so these leagues risk sounding even more out of touch with their customers. 

As all that goes on, MLB quietly got a deal done to extend the baseball CBA by a few years.  21 years without a work stoppage seems like it should happen in every sport, but it’s nothing to sneeze at, either.  I’m not as down on Bud Selig as many others seem to be.  There was a canceled World Series during his tenure, but the basis for what caused the 1994 strike was from well before he was commissioner (though the collusion cases that really caused it did occur when he was an owner of the Brewers).  The whole steroids thing happened during his tenure, but this also started well before he was commissioner.  And, personally, I’m just not as disenfranchised by the steroid controversy as so many others.  Why do baseball players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro get vilified, while football players like Shawne Merriman and Brian Cushing seemingly get a pass?  Say what you will – if Selig didn’t do enough regarding steroids early on, at least he’s doing everything he can to fix the problem.

Here are some of the highlights of the new CBA:

1. Houston Astros move from the National League Central to the American League West in 2013.  This evens the leagues at 15 teams which means that each the league will have round-the-season interleague play.  Baseball needed to even out the leagues – as a Reds fan, I’ve always hated how unfair it is to have a 6-team division when there’s a 4-team division out there.  I wish there was a way to do it without having interleague year-round, but the unbalanced leagues bothers me much more.  I’ve read a lot of people say the Brewers would be the more appropriate team to move to the AL.  I disagree.  I have quite a few friends from Wisconsin, and my impression is that Milwaukee always considered itself a National League town, even though most people don’t remember when the Braves were still there.  Now, I’ve read that the same thing could be said about Houston, but somebody needs to move.  It’s not going to be an original, non-expansion team, and it needs to make sense geographically.  That basically leaves the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Astros and Padres as the only feasible teams.  Out of those teams, the Astros are the only up-for-sale, 106-loss team.  One thing this should show MLB – NOBODY WANTS TO MOVE TO THE AMERICAN LEAGUE!!!

part of which is because…

PEOPLE HATE THE DESIGNATED HITTER!!!!  Please take note.

2. Two more Wild Card teams will be added to the playoff mix as early as next season.  Probably in a one-game playoff to advance to the Division Series.  I’m for this as well.  The playoffs are good for baseball.  How many people tuned into a significant portion of the last 7 days of baseball in 1993?  The answer is not nearly as many who tuned into to watch the Yankees play the Tigers or the Cardinals play the Phillies.  The same thing will be true for adding a one-game playoff.  There will be years where the races would have been better without a 5th playoff team – unfortunately they made the change in a year where this was the case, so it looks worse.  Looking back, 2010 in the NL would have been less of a race, but 2010 in the AL, the race for the 5th spot would have been better. 

I’m sure it’s probably 50-50 over the long-term whether or not there was a better race for the 4th spot or the 5th, but adding the 5th playoff spot does two important things.  First, it makes it important to win your division.  How many times have 2 teams out of the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees had a playoff spot locked up where they care more about setting their rotation but less about winning the division.  This won’t happen any more.  Second, it gives the winning wild card team a disadvantage.  The wining Wild Card team won’t be able to start their #1 starter in the NLDS.  So, in a way, they’ve added more excitement but given an advantage to the division winners.

3. Blood testing for HGH with a 50-game suspension for a first failed test, 100 games for a second and lifetime ban with the right to seek reinstatement for the third. Hard to believe, but baseball beat the NFL to the punch on this one.  Good for them, and good for the players.

4. A raise in the minimum salary from $414,000 this year to $480,000 in 2012, and ultimately to more than $500,000.  The deal also implements an increase in the revenue sharing threshold and agreed to make it more difficult for revenue sharing to go to big market teams.  This minimum salary increase makes sense – the owners probably needed to agree to something like this in order to increase the revenue sharing threshold.  Overall, I think this deal seems to be very in-tune with further improving competitive balance.  You have to see how it plays out, but it seems good right now!

5. A luxury tax on teams that spend above an aggregate figure for players signed through the annual First-Year Player Draft and the near elimination of Draft-pick compensation for the signing of free agents.  I think this is kind of getting at the same idea a rookie wage cap – ultimately the hope is that small market teams won’t feel like they need to overpay in the draft to compete, and they won’t pass on players who they’d rather take but know will be too difficult to sign.  Like Brian at PATP, I don’t completely understand this, but I think it goes toward improving competitive balance, which is good in my book.

6. Expansion of instant replay to include fair and foul calls on balls hit down the line in addition to others trapped by fielders. Like Brian said, this is good in theory – but they better figure out a good way to do it.  I think they should have an off-field replay umpire – that would be the easiest way to make it fast if you ask me.

7. Restrictions for the first time on the use of smokeless tobacco on the field or in dugouts.  Players are still allowed to use smokeless tobacco, just not put the can of dip in their pocket and they can’t use it at other team functions.  I put a comment into PATP’s original post – I’ll paraphrase it below:

I don’t have a problem morally with the owners restricting the players in this way.  They aren’t losing their individual right, just the privilege to use tobacco at work.  Ultimately, if baseball determines putting rules like this in place helps them make more money, they should do it.  I don’t quite understand why the owners have to collectively bargain this kind of thing at all – I don’t get to tell my bosses what I can and can’t do at work.

That said, I am really glad they didn’t say 100% you can’t chew during the game.  Cutting around the edges on this is OK to me – it’s good to clean up the image a bit.  I honestly can’t make the most logical argument for it, but there’s just something very BASEBALL about chewing tobacco (and I personally hate the stuff).  I am 100% for banning smoking in every restaurant and bar in the US, but that’s because smoking impacts other people.  Chewing tobacco is different – I’m glad they didn’t go any further.  Ultimately, this is probably the least important thing in this whole list.

There’s my “Two Cents”.


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