Major League Baseball and its players’ union reached an unprecedented agreement Thursday to discuss renegotiating their labor contract that has three seasons remaining, part of a deal that includes modest rule changes for 2020 and drops pitch clocks until 2022 at the earliest.
Players have been furious at slow free-agent markets during the first two offseasons of the five-year labor contract, set to expire Dec. 1, 2021. None of the previous 11 collective bargaining agreements dating to 1966 has been overhauled in mid-agreement, except for limited areas defined by the sides when the deal was signed.
“It remains to be seen what the union’s going to ask for, what we’re going to ask for and whether we reach an agreement,” deputy commissioner Dan Halem said. “It’s a positive sign we were able to reach an agreement with the union on rule changes and hopefully we can build on that.”
Ordinarily, the sides would have started negotiations in March 2021. The union proposed major economic changes this offseason that management refused to consider, such as expanding the designated hitter to the National League, addressing service-time rules that affect eligibility to free agency and salary arbitration. Also, adding provisions to the amateur draft that would make teams less likely to jettison veterans in favor of rebuilding.
“I think the common ground that we were able to find here has cracked open a door to a broader conversion,” union head Tony Clark said. “And that broader conversion we believe is necessary and in the best interest of both parties. How things manifest themselves moving forward remains to be seen.”
While there is no deadline, as a practical matter the sides would have to agree to major economic changes before free-agent negotiations start, on the sixth day following the World Series.
“Teams have the right to know what the rules are before they start making decisions regarding what their teams are going to look like,” Halem said.
As part of the agreement:
— Trade waivers will be eliminated, meaning no player can be traded after July 31 through the end of the regular season. Players who clear outright waivers can still be claimed and will be eligible for the postseason if they are in the organization before Sept. 1. The sides are discussing when trades can resume, with after the League Championship Series or after World Series among the possibilities. With the change, additional free agents could be subject to draft-pick compensation because a team can make a qualifying offer only to a free agent who had been on the club since opening day.
— Mound visits without pitching changes will be cut from six to five.
— MLB has the right to cut half-inning breaks to 2 minutes this year, down from 2:05 for most games and 2:25 for nationally televised games.
— Fan voting for the All-Star Game will be divided into two rounds, with the top three vote-getters advancing for all positions except the outfield, for which six will move on. The top three voter-getters at each position will receive bonuses of $2,500 to $15,000, which will not count against a team’s luxury-tax payroll. Home Run Derby prize money will be increased to $2.5 million, including $1 million for the winner, up from the $725,000 total previous agreed to for 2019, of which $150,000 had been designated for the winner. The amount of money for the winning team, which had been $640,000, will be increased so that each player on that team gets about $5,000 more.
— A joint management-union committee will study effects of potential changes to the strike zone, the height of the mound and the distance from the mound to the plate. It is to issue its recommendations by Dec. 15.
— Each team will start the 10th inning with a runner on second in the All-Star Game and spring training games.
— All pitchers must face at least three batters or end a half-inning, unless injured. While the union refused to agree to that provision, it also said it will not challenge it.
— The active roster limit will increase by one to 26 from opening day through Aug. 31 and will drop from 40 to 28 through the end of the regular season. What had been a 26th player for certain day-night doubleheaders through Aug. 31 will become a 27th player in those situations. A joint committee will determine the limit of pitchers, and if there is no agreement the limit will be 13 (14 from Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season).
— Unless changed by the committee, the injured list and option recall minimum period for pitchers will increase from 10 days to 15 in 2020, an effort to slow the use of relievers by teams who shuttle of pitchers between the majors and minors. There still will be a seven-day concussion IL.
— Position players will be prohibited from pitching through the ninth inning unless the player’s team is winning or losing by six or more runs when he takes the mound.