Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

Major League Baseball owners have allegedly approved a plan that could see the 2020 season start around Independence Day.  With a second spring training starting in mid-June at each team’s home ballpark, an 82 game schedule would start in July and would be limited to regional opponents.  Teams would only face opponents from their own division and the same division in the opposite league.  Teams unable to open in their cities due to legal restrictions would temporarily relocate, either to their spring training facilities or major-league parks in other parts of the country.

There are some major roadblocks on the way to implementing this plan, chief among them government participation in states like California and Illinois and the pesky issue of player compensation.  The owners would like to see a revenue sharing plan implemented, since there will be no gate revenues, at least at the beginning of the season, while the MLBPA has rejected that outright, likening it to a salary cap.

Does this plan put us closer to baseball coming back?  Yes.  But, it isn’t a sure thing and it is just as likely that the 4th of July comes and goes and America’s pastime remains on the sidelines.

Grievence Denied

After nearly 5 years, an arbitrator has ruled in favor of the Cubs in the grievance filed by the MLBPA on behalf of Kris Bryant.  The grievance, filed in May of 2015, alleged that the Cubs manipulated Bryant’s service time in an effort to keep an extra year of team control before Bryant was eligible for free agency.  The hearing took place this past October, once it became obvious that Bryant and the Cubs would not be coming to an agreement on a long term contract that would make the grievance moot.

Bryant split the 2014 season between Double A Tennessee and Triple A Iowa.  Despite hitting .325 with a combined 43 home runs and 110 RBIs between the two levels, he did not get a September call-up by the Cubs.  Determined to break camp with the big league team the next spring, Bryant slashed .425/.477/1.175 with nine home runs in 40 at-bats in the Cactus League.  However, that was not good enough to supplant Mike Olt, and Bryant was returned to Triple A to, allegedly, work on his defense.  When Olt injured his wrist on April 11, the Cubs waited until April 17 to put him on the DL and recall Bryant, the very day they gained an extra year of control.  Bryant went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award, hitting .275 with 26 home runs and 99 RBIs while Olt, after finishing the year with the White Sox, never played in the major leagues again after the 2015 season.

So, the Cubs retain control over Bryant for an additional two years.  Whether he steps foot on the field again as a member of the team is still up in the air.  With the Cubs too close to the luxury tax threshold for Tom Ricketts’ comfort, Bryant has been rumored to be on the trading block all winter, with the result of his grievance, and the length of time before he becomes a free agent, seen as being the holdup in closing a deal.  While trading Bryant may be the best way to replenish a farm system left bare by 5 years of contention, while also lowering the team’s overall payroll commitments, doing so does not signal an intention to try and win in 2020, while the remainder of the team’s core moves closer to free agency themselves.

Labor Peace

Last week, Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association avoided a lockout and agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement, ensuring labor peace through the 2021 season.  The big changes involve free agent compensation and a few things related to the Mid-Summer Classic.

Let’s start with the All Star Game.  After the fiasco in Milwaukee in 2002, where the game ended in a tie after both teams ran out of pitchers, Commissioner Bud Selig decided that, going forward, the winning team would earn home field advantage for their participant in the World Series.  The new labor agreement changes that, giving home field advantage to the World Series participant with the best regular season record.  Given the scheduling disparities between the leagues, this is not a perfect solution, but is a step in the right direction.

The other ASG-related change is the removal of roster slots available for the manager’s discretion.  The Commissioner’s office will now fill out the remaining spots after the fan and player votes.  Meaning, of course, that the days of the manager bringing loads of his own players, deserving or not, is over.

Changes affecting the regular season include a new 10 day disabled list, replacing the current 15 day list.  Starting in 2018, the schedule will be expanded to provide teams with four additional off days, meaning the season will now begin in the middle of the week.

On the revenue sharing side of things, the A’s will no longer be treated as a small market team, meaning they will lose the $30+ million they get today.

Finally, free agents who have been made a qualifying offer will no longer cost a first round draft pick.  The draft pick compensation will depend on which team makes the signing and how much the contract is worth.  International bonuses have been capped between $4.75 million and $5.75 million, depending on where the team falls in the competitive balance pools.