MLB, players reach deal to end lockout, salvage full 162-game season

Major League Baseball and the players union reached a deal Thursday on a new collective bargaining agreement that will effectively end a 99-day lockout after ratification, clearing the path for a full 162-game season.

The season is set to start April 7 — seven days after the original start date of March 31. Spring training is set to open on Sunday.

“I am genuinely thrilled to say Major League Baseball is back and we’re going to play 162 games,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a press conference after the owners voted 30-0 to approve the agreement. “I want to start by apologizing to our fans. I know the last few months have been difficult.”

In a statementthe MLBPA said the new CBA “institutes unprecedented contractual enhancements that will apply throughout the association’s membership.”

“Our union endured the second-longest work stoppage in its history to achieve significant progress in key areas that will improve not just current players’ rights and benefits, but those of generations to come,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in the statement. “Players remained engaged and unified from beginning to end, and in the process reenergized our fraternity.”

The two sides hammered out a deal after marathon sessions this week, avoiding losing regular-season games caused by labor strife for the first time since 1994-95.

The players group voted 26-12 in favor of the new agreement — eight members of the executive committee and 30 players got a vote.

The sport’s new collective bargaining agreement will also expand the playoffs to 12 teams and introduce incentives to limit so-called “tanking.” The minimum salary will rise from $570,500 to about $700,000 and the luxury tax threshold will increase from $210 million to around $230 million this year, a slight loosening for the biggest spenders such as the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Red Sox. A new bonus pool was established for players not yet eligible for arbitration, a way to boost salaries for young stars.

Manfred had set a Tuesday deadline for a deal that would preserve a 162-game schedule along with full pay and service time required for players to reach free agency. Talks spilled past the deadline and Manfred announced more cancellations Wednesday, increasing the total to 184 of the 2,230 games.

“I love our game,” Manfred said. “Having said that, since I’ve been commissioner, I’ve talked about the need to make changes in some of our rules to enhance the entertainment value of our product for the benefit of our fans. And I think the new agreement opens up an opportunity that we can work with the players to make sure that we can make good rule changes that work for our fans.”

After yet another snag, this time over management’s desire for an international amateur draft, the deal came together Thursday afternoon and capped nearly a year of talks that saw pitchers Max Scherzer and Andrew Miller take prominent roles as union spokesmen.

Players had fumed for years about the deal that expired Dec. 1, which saw payrolls decline for 4% in 2021 compared to the last full season, back to their 2015 level. The union had an ambitious negotiating stance in talks that began last spring, asking for free-agency rights to increase with an age-based backstop and for an expansion of salary arbitration to its level from 1974-86.

In the late stages, the level and rates of the luxury tax, designed as a break on spending, became the key to a deal. Players think that too low a threshold and too high a rate acts tantamount to a salary cap, which the union fought off with a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95.

“The deal pushes the game forward,” Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole, a member of the union’s executive subcommittee, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It addresses a lot of the things that the players in the game should be focused on: the competitive integrity aspect of it.”

The agreement came after three days of shuttle negotiations between the MLB offices in midtown Manhattan and the players’ association headquarters, three blocks away.

Despite hundreds of hours of threats and counter-threats, the sides are set to avoid regular-season games being canceled by labor conflict for the first time since the 1994-95 strike. Games originally announced as canceled by Manfred were changed to postponed, and MLB will modify the original schedule.

The deal came at a cost, though, with years of public rancor again casting both owners and players as money obsessed. Spring training in Arizona and Florida was disrupted for the third straight year following two exhibition seasons altered by the coronavirus pandemic. Exhibition games had been scheduled to start Feb. 26.

Players will have about 28 days of training rather than the usual 42 for pitchers and catchers.

In some ways, the negotiations were similar to those in 1990, when a lockout started Feb. 15 and ended with a four-year deal announced at 1:18 am on March 19.

–with files from Ben Nicholson-Smith and The Associated Press

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