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MLB Gets a Mixed-Bag Labor Agreement to Save the 2022 Season

March 11, 2022, 10:25 PM

The union deal that saved Major League Baseball in 2022 is in many ways a textbook example of labor-management compromise: Neither side won, neither side lost, and no one was completely happy.

As details of the collective bargaining agreement that ended a 99-day lockout emerged, it became clear that each side got some—but not all—of what it wanted. The players raised the starting salary from $570,500 to $780,000 by 2026, expanded a bonus pool for young players, and convinced the league to ease a competitive balance tax that they said amounted to a salary cap.

While the players didn’t accomplish their goal of fundamentally changing the free-agency structure to help young players win lucrative contracts sooner, they clinched a limited draft lottery to discourage a practice known as “tanking,” where a team intentionally loses games to get the first crack at players in the next season’s draft.

“They got as much as I think they could have hoped for under the circumstances,” said Jim Quinn, a veterans sports attorney with Berg and Androphy in New York who frequently represents players unions.

Universal DH Deal

In exchange, the owners gained the power to make rules changes to the game starting in 2023, such as a pitch clock to speed up games and a ban on defensive field shifts that can make the game less exciting for fans. They also got universal designated hitters—meaning pitchers in the National League won’t have to bat—and expanded the number of playoff teams from 10 to 12. Both of those changes take effect this season.

The agreement also showed a rift between union leaders and the rank-and-file. The eight-member players bargaining subcommittee—which included star New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer and Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole—unanimously rejected the deal only to have the full 30-member executive board approve it 26-12.

“Scherzer and Gerrit Cole had a Curt Flood-like resolve,” said Brad Snyder, a sports law professor at Georgetown Law school, referring the St. Louis Cardinals player who in 1969 challenged MLB’s reserve clause all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“They were willing to sacrifice months—you know, paychecks, a whole season—to move the status quo back in favor of the player, and they were obviously overruled,” Snyder said. “There’s a diversity of interests on both sides, and I think the players’ interests are not all the same.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian Kullgren in Washington at ikullgren@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com