Yes, there will be a Major League Baseball season, MLB and and its players union have confirmed to Sportico.
An agreement on a new five-year labor deal Thursday between negotiators for MLB and the MLB Players Association signaled the end of the 99-day lockout and set in motion a scramble to start spring training almost immediately, with a full 162-game season slated to open April 7.
Players must report to their respective camps by Sunday with spring training games beginning on March 18.
“We’re thrilled to say Major League Baseball’s back and we’re going to play 162 games,” commissioner Rob Manfred said after the owners unanimously ratified the new deal, 30-0. “I want to start by apologizing to our fans. I know the last few months have been difficult, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world. That’s sort of the way collective bargaining works sometimes, but I do apologize for it.”
The end of the lockout will also instigate a frenzied period when about 175 free agents must be signed, among them such highly ranked players as Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Kris Bryant, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen.
Prior to the start of the lockout on Dec. 2, a record $1.77 billion was paid to 42 free agents.
The new agreement will have something for both sides: expanded playoffs, the universal designated hitter, a higher minimum salary, and a prize pool for young players, plus lucrative advertising patches on caps and uniforms. The luxury tax threshold will be increased from last year’s $210 million per team incrementally during the next five years. An international draft resolution was tabled until July 25.
There will also be the opportunity to institute new rules banning infield shifts, increasing the size of the bases, and instituting a pitch clock in 2023.
“Our players are great, great athletes,” Manfred said. “I respect them, and I respect the input we received from them during this process. And we really did learn a lot. Looking forward, I couldn’t be more excited about our game. We have an opportunity we have to work with the players to fully seize.”
MLB and the union resumed serious bargaining this past weekend after talks broke down eight days ago and Manfred announced that the first two series of the regular season would be canceled.
Canceled games would not be rescheduled, Manfred said at the time, adding that, “Our position is that for games that are not played, players will not get paid.”
Neither will happen. Under terms of the agreement, the entire 162-game season will be played, and the players will be paid their full salaries, beginning on opening day.
The lockout was the sports’ first work stoppage since a strike knocked out the end of the 1994 season and the opening of the 1995 season. But unlike the strikes of 1981, 1985 and 1994, this lockout will result in no lost regular season games.
The players hope the new deal will be more lucrative. Since 2017, average player salaries have declined 5.2%, while franchise value has continued to escalate through the pandemic. Manfred told Sportico during the 2020 World Series that the owners had amassed $3 million in operating losses and $8.3 million in debt while playing the 60-game regular season without fans in the stands.
Though previous disputes have been framed as millionaire players against billionaire owners, the dynamics have changed since baseball’s last stoppage.
Baseball was earning $10 billion in annual revenue prior to the pandemic, and almost all 30 MLB owners are worth more than $1 billion, with the Mets’ Steve Cohen topping the list at $12 billion in personal wealth.
Meanwhile, 71% of big leaguers under contract last year earned under $1 million. Only 112 earned more than $10 million.
To bring younger players closer to the average of $4.3 million, the base salary for first-year players will increase from $575,500 last year to $700,000 this year, the first of the new agreement.
“I hope that the players appreciate we worked very hard to address the key concerns they brought to the table,” Manfred said.