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New CBA adds to long streak of labor peace for baseball

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  November 20, 2011 09:19 AM

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With all the Red Sox drama, the new collective bargaining agreement has not generated much interest in Boston.

The new deal is expected to be announced this week, well ahead of the Dec. 11 expiration of the former CBA. The five-year deal will make for 21 uninterrupted labor peace in baseball. After the shameful events if 1994, the owners and players have gotten it right.

As an observer of this process, the strength of the MLB Players Association is what helps to make this possible. Unlike the NHL, NBA or NFL, baseball owners know they can't break their players union and trying would be fruitless. That makes for negotiations which, while not necessarily a picnic, start with certain realities in place.

The new agreement is apparently a model of give and take based on reports by the AP and the New York Times. The union has agreed to testing for HGH, adding to the system already in place for testing for steroids and amphetamines. The constant evolution of designer drugs by crooked chemists means no sport is totally safe from cheaters. But baseball is now vigilant after years of turning away from the problem.

The free agent compensation system is being trimmed back so only the truly elite players will bring back a draft pick. A temporary version of the new model will be in place this winter, but is not retroactive. So the Red Sox will get Philadelphia's draft pick for Jonathan Papelbon.

The hard-to-understand and antiquated Elias rankings of free agents will be scrapped, too. Starting in 2012, teams would have to make a “qualifying offer” of a one-year guaranteed contract worth $12.4 million to get draft pick compensation. In other words, you have to believe your player is worth that much to get a pick back. Clearly that will cut down on the Type A pool to only a handful of superstars.

This helps the players as Type A free agents often had their value diminished. For instance, what team would want to forfeit a first-round draft pick for Matt Capps?

Type B free agents would be eliminated. This will help cut down on draft costs as fewer players will be supplemental first round picks.

The minimum salary will climb from $414,000 to $480,000 end eventually to $500,000. The number of "Super Two" players eligible for arbitration after their second season will climb from 17 percent to 22 percent. That will add five or players to the group.

The owners got a salary cap on draft picks. Teams will have a maximum they can spend on draft picks in a given year (and international free agents, too) and will be taxed heavily (75 percent to 100 percent) if they exceed that limit. Teams also could lose future draft picks for egregiously exceeding the limit.

This will cut down on 18-year-olds getting $1 million who never get out of Class A ball.

Unfortunately, this will also severely limit baseball's ability to lure two-sport athletes. The Red Sox, for instance, were able to overspend to get outfielder Brandon Jacobs to walk away from a football scholarship to Auburn. Jacobs, a 10th round pick in 2009, received a bonus of $750,000 and is now a prime prospect. Those decisions will have ramifications now.

Until the new agreement is published for all to see, it's hard to get a gauge of who "won" the negotiations. But from what we know so far, it sounds fairly even. The players got less restraint of trade from the compensation system and a significantly higher minimum salary while the owners got HGH testing and a cap on draft pick salaries.

In the end, fans win for sure because baseball isn't going anywhere for five years. With the added wild cards, new stadiums around the game and compelling division races, it's a healthy sport and we can all celebrate that.

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