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The players secured crucial wins under new CBA

There’s still much ground to be made up.

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Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It was long, it was contentious, at times it seemed it would never end, but after 99 days the lockout is over and baseball is back. Shortly after 3:00 p.m. EST yesterday afternoon, the union announced they had voted to approve the owners’ CBA proposal, with the owners voting unanimously to ratify the new deal roughly three hours later.

This brought to end the second-longest work stoppage in the game’s history, one which saw 43 days pass before owners opened negotiations with the union. It was a three-plus month battle characterized by players’ offers being met with owner intransigence. It saw owners impose multiple arbitrary deadlines and then punitively cancel games to punish players for refusing to ingest last-minute poison pill provisos. And yet, the players held firm, determined to secure as many victories for their side as possible.

As my colleague Dan Kelly so eloquently put it in the PSA Slack, it does indeed feel like the players clawed back some territory lost over the last few CBAs. The players have maintained that increasing competitiveness, securing pay commensurate with value provided, and maximizing the product being put on the field are their key objectives. Let’s take a look at how they accomplished this via the areas of the CBA where the union secured wins for their constituents.

We’ll get the most obvious victory out of the way first: there will be a full 162-game season. Players will be paid their full salaries and have the opportunity to accrue a full year of service time. At points over the last month, it looked like games would be scrubbed from the schedule. To have those contests reinstituted is no small matter for a player base that lost out on 63 percent of their earnings two seasons ago.

Next we have the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) thresholds. They will start at $230 million this season and rise to $244 million in the final year of the deal. That’s a $20 million increase in base threshold from last season — a 9.5 percent increase — the largest jump in either regard since the CBT came into existence. The threshold will also grow by roughly three percent annually — a far better improvement than growth negotiated over the last two deals.

Increasing pay for pre-arbitration-eligible players was arguably the union’s biggest victory in this deal. Those players are increasingly making up the bulk of major league rosters and yet are paid the furthest from the value they produce.

The minimum salary increased by almost $130,000, which as Sawchik notes is the largest raw dollar increase ever and largest percentage increase in almost 20 years. The minimum will also increase by $20,000 per year, a 6.5 percent annual increase that far outperforms growth rates in the previous two deals.

Of course, there was also the creation of a groundbreaking $50 million pre-arb bonus pool to reward the highest performing young players in the league. This gives the most exploited class of players an opportunity to secure additional financial stability at a time when we see fewer and fewer players have careers long enough to enjoy the escalating salaries of arbitration and free agency. Below are the details of how that $50 million pool will be distributed.

For the first time, we will experience a 12-team postseason under this deal. To those wondering how that’s a win for the union — rightfully citing the reduced incentive to increase payroll if the bar to make the playoffs is dropped — I would say this: expanded playoffs were inevitable. However, the union succeeded in limiting postseason expansion to only 12 teams. This allows them in five years to enter talks with 14-team playoffs as their principal bargaining chip to secure further gains for players.

Finally, we have a trio of elements that represent the first foray into addressing tanking and service time manipulation. MLB is instituting a draft lottery for the first six picks in the draft, disincentivizing teams from playing for the worst record in baseball. They will also provide draft pick incentives to teams who promote top prospects on Opening Day. Finally, MLB will award a full year of service time to players who finish first or second in Rookie of the Year voting, regardless of call up date. All three combine to incentivize teams to put their best players on the field.

Make no mistake, this is far from a perfect deal. That MLB now has the ability to streamline the implementation of rule changes is less than ideal. That the owners successfully tied removal of direct draft pick compensation (the qualifying offer system) to the institution of an international draft sucks. The economic gains were marginal compared to surging league revenues, meaning players still don’t get an equitable piece of the pie. Owners added a fourth CBT threshold — a so-called “Steve Cohen Tax.” The players set a troubling precedent obliging the owners’ insistence that time to free agency, time to arbitration, and revenue sharing be considered non-starter topics. Steps to prevent tanking and service time manipulation were incremental at best. I could go on and on.

This deal was never going to bring about a sea change to the player compensation model, roster construction, etc. The players understood that trying to fix everything wrong with the system in one negotiation was just not how this whole thing was going to shake out. Secure what you can now and hope for further gains in five years’ time. Sure, you could argue there is still more broken with the game than right. But I find as I write this that pessimism is the last thing on my mind. Baseball is back and I could not be happier.