- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- It was one more "historic" day in the life of the great sport of baseball. That's the word Bud Selig used to describe it, anyhow: "Historic."
OK, so it wasn't historic in the way that Mariano Rivera's 602nd save was historic. Or in the way that the monumental collapse of the 2011 Red Sox was historic. Or even in the way that Manny Ramirez's second career PED suspension was historic.
But history unfolds in many sizes, shapes and flavors in this game. And make no mistake about it: History did indeed unfold Tuesday in a gleaming conference room on Park Avenue in New York City.
What was announced in that room was a baseball labor deal unlike any other in -- yessir, here comes that word again -- history. And that's a good thing, especially when you measure it against the regrettable state of labor-relations affairs in the other professional sports in this wonderful land of ours.
What we had here was two sides actually working together to make their sport a better place. What a concept.
What we had here were a commissioner and two lead negotiators -- Rob Manfred on the owners' side and Michael Weiner on the players' side -- who have emerged from years of labor-war rubble to reach a place where they can admire, respect and even brainstorm with each other. Who knew that would ever be possible?
And the result is a five-year labor deal that may well change this sport more profoundly and more extensively than any labor agreement in history. How will those changes work? Let's take a look at the highlights:
Well, it's finally official. Baseball is adding a wild-card team in each league, and those two wild cards will meet in a one-game survivor showdown before the rest of the postseason gets rolling. What's still uncertain is whether it's possible or practical to start the new postseason format next year -- because it sure doesn't seem real practical.
The 2012 schedule is already set. So expanding the playoffs next year would likely push the postseason into November or would force the powers that be to wipe out October travel days and other wiggle room. The labor deal says the two sides have to figure out whether they can make this work by next March 1. But in reality, says Manfred, it probably will be decided, one way or the other, by the January owners meetings. The sense is that the only reason it could possibly happen in 2012 is that the commish desperately wants it to happen. As Manfred quipped, "He spoke, [so] I'm not."
Once upon a time three decades ago, players went out on strike for two months over this issue. Now, the owners have agreed to clap their hands and make free-agent compensation essentially disappear -- and it barely caused a ripple Thursday. That in itself tells you how much things have changed.
For years, if a free agent was good enough to get "Type A" or "Type B" stamped on his back, his old team almost always got a draft pick or two if he signed with somebody else. And eventually, the lusting after those picks got so out of hand that every July, clubs were trading for players they didn't even want, just so they could collect more picks. Well, not anymore.
For one thing, starting next winter, the old system will cease to exist. No more Type A's. No more Type B's. And theoretically, the only players who will deliver any kind of compensation to their old teams are a handful of "elite" players who are so good that their former teams won't mind tendering them a "qualifying offer." That qualifying offer would be a one-year guaranteed contract that computes to the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players in baseball -- which would be $12.5 million if those rules were in effect this offseason.
But here's another fascinating wrinkle in the new rules: If a player gets traded in midseason, the team that trades for him will get zero compensation, no matter how big a star he is. Doesn't matter if he's CC Sabathia or Felipe Lopez. The only players who can bring any sort of compensation are players who spent the entire season with one club. Think that'll change the July trade-deadline madness? Teams are still trying to figure that out themselves.
Feel a draft?
"Fixing" the draft was Bud Selig's No. 1 issue in these negotiations. He admitted that again Thursday, saying: "This was very important to me." But it's a funny thing. Some of the people who are most unhappy with the new draft-bonus rules are people who work for the same low-revenue teams the commish thought he was trying to help.
Do teams like the Royals or Pirates really WANT a "bonus pool" essentially telling them what they can spend on their top picks? Their owners might want one. Bud Selig might want one. But their baseball people? They're clearly not real thrilled.
The way those teams look at life in 2011 is, they're never going to outbid the Yankees for Sabathia or the Phillies for Cliff Lee. But "overpaying" in the draft has become their "major avenue for acquiring talent," said one small-market exec. Now, though, overpaying your picks means a hefty tax bill and forfeiting picks. And "most smaller-market owners won't pay a tax, based on principle," the same exec said.
But does anyone think this new system will stop Scott Boras from looking for record bonuses for "special players"? Yeah, right. So these clubs fear that this system could drive those "special" Boras clients to big-budget teams that don't mind paying taxes to reel in the right player. And that sure wasn't Bud Selig's game plan.
History unfolds in many sizes, shapes and flavors in this game. And make no mistake about it: History did indeed unfold Tuesday in a gleaming conference room on Park Avenue in New York City.
That isn't how the commish or his negotiators see it, obviously. Manfred made it a point to say the bonus pool will be based on where a team picks, how many picks it has and how much was spent in the previous year's draft. So the Astros, who draft first next June, will have an $11.5 million pool to work with, while the teams that pick last in each round get only $4.5 million in their pool.
And because there's no hard slotting, Manfred said, "if you've got a Stephen Strasburg you maybe want to spend [big] money on, you might want to spend more on your [first-round pick] and not spend it on your [second-round pick]."
But is that really going to be how this winds up working? Let's just say many teams are dubious.
Other draft changes
It isn't only the system for signing picks that's changing. Other draft tweaks you should be aware of:
• Draft picks will no longer be allowed to sign major league contracts. It's minor league deals only -- which means no more spreading out big money over multiyear contracts. The only exception: "multi-sport" players who have football or basketball scholarships that give teams the freedom, as in the past, to cite special circumstances as a reason for giving out contracts beyond the norm.
• The date for signing draft picks will move from mid-August to mid-July. "There's just a perception among clubs that, whenever the deadline is, that's when players will sign," Manfred said. "Moving up the signing date gets players on the field."
• If teams spend more than 5 percent more on draft picks than their bonus pool says they should spend, they get penalized by losing picks. And those extra picks will wind up in the hands of smaller-revenue teams, who can then take a player or (ta-taaaa) trade the picks. It's the first time in history that clubs will be allowed to trade draft choices -- but those are the only picks they'll be permitted to trade. All other draft picks remain untradable.
We are the world
The new rules for signing international players are even murkier. Initially, there's going to be a bonus pool for those players, too. Down the road, there's still hope for a worldwide draft. And the new agreement adds drug testing for top international prospects, too.
But within the sport, there is still massive skepticism this is going to fly. Those bonus pools will be set at only $2.9 million per team in the first year of the agreement -- a figure that wouldn't even pay for one year of Aroldis Chapman. The pools will then range from $4.5 million down to $1.7 million per team in the second year. And it's still unclear how they would be applied to players from Cuba, for instance.
So an official of one team says: "I don't see how it's enforceable. It wouldn't surprise me if somebody from Venezuela files an antitrust suit. I can't see Hugo Chavez going for this."
Meanwhile, an agent who does extensive business in Latin America predicts these rules could lead to "all sorts of shady behavior, such as making payments under the table. Unless there are draconian penalties attached -- such as the loss of two or three first-round picks if a team is caught cheating -- it seems like the unintended consequences could be both numerous and counterproductive."
Shady behavior in Latin America? C'mon. That could never happen. Could it?
The revenue-sharing police force
There was a time in these negotiations when it looked as if the good old Competitive Balance Tax (a.k.a., the luxury tax) might not apply just to teams that spent "too much" on payroll. There was also lots of talk about a tax for teams that spent "too little" on their big league roster. (A $50 million threshold was kicked around, sources say.)
In the end, the tax on the bottom-feeders was dropped. But the revenue-sharing system is still changing in several important ways:
• If a team is receiving those big revenue-sharing bucks, it will no longer be allowed to spend that money on paying down debt, which has been a popular alibi over the years.
• Teams also now have to report specifically how they spent their revenue-sharing handouts to improve their big league team. No more generalities allowed.
• The union also pressed for, and got, a new rule that directly connects revenue-sharing money to big league payroll. So if you're getting revenue-sharing checks, the payroll of your 40-man roster now has to be at least 25 percent larger than the amount you're receiving. In other words, if your revenue-sharing check is for $40 million, your big league payroll needs to be at least $50 million. If it isn't, Weiner said, "you have the burden of proving you're in compliance" with the rule requiring that money to be spent on improving the major league team. In the past, that burden fell on the union.
• It wasn't so long ago that teams like the Phillies, Mets and Angels were GETTING revenue-sharing money, based on their revenues -- or lack thereof. That's about to become impossible. By the end of this labor deal in 2016, teams in the 15 largest markets will no longer be allowed to receive revenue-sharing welfare, no matter how lousy their TV contract or attendance may be.
• So which clubs will that affect? One source tells ESPN.com the 15 teams that will be ineligible for revenue sharing by 2016 are the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, Red Sox, Rangers, Braves, Nationals, Blue Jays, Astros, Giants and A's. But there's an asterisk attached in the case of the A's. They'll be eligible until their stadium situation gets resolved -- then will join the other teams on this list. So that leaves the Astros, Nationals, Blue Jays and Braves as the teams most affected -- and most motivated to increase their revenue streams over the next few years.
In other news
If you read through all the small print -- and there's plenty of it -- you'll also find these fascinating new stipulations in this deal:
• Sound those trumpets. More replay is coming next year. You can add fair/foul calls and trap/catch to the list. 'Bout time.
• Players will now be "required" to attend the All-Star Game -- unless they're hurt or "otherwise excused by the Office of the Commissioner." Too bad this rule can't apply to Manny Ramirez retroactively.
• All players will be wearing more concussion-proof helmets by 2013. MLB has sent Rawlings back to the drawing board to design a helmet that protects players against pitches thrown at up to 100 mph -- but one that isn't as bulky as the previous concussion-proof models.
• Teams are going to be allowed to expand to a 26-man roster for day-night doubleheaders -- assuming those doubleheaders are scheduled with at least 48 hours' notice. That's a recommendation of Bud Selig's special committee for on-field matters.
• So why is that doubleheader rule noteworthy? Because Manfred said baseball is considering allowing teams to schedule one split doubleheader per season as it wrestles with new schedule issues related to year-round interleague play and the expanded postseason.
• The luxury tax thresholds won't be changing at all in 2012 or 2013. They'll remain at $178 million, then will rise to $189 million for 2014-16. The hope is that by the end of the agreement, no team will be paying it. If the Yankees keep exceeding that threshold, though, their tax rate will jump to 50 percent from the current 40 percent, much to the Steinbrenner family's delight.
• More players with between two and three years' service will now be eligible for "Super-Two" arbitration fun. So does this mean teams will be willing to wait until July, or even later, to call up their hot prospects, just so they can avoid having them qualify for early arbitration? Stay tuned.
• And last but obviously not least, a big salute to the players for agreeing to blood testing for HGH. You can read much more on this topic in this column by Jerry Crasnick. But the big news is, this places baseball ahead of every major North American professional sport on this front. "This was something the players wanted to get ahead of," Weiner said. "They wanted a level playing field." And that's one more indication of how different life is going to be in this sport in the year 2012: This time, those players were encouraged to speak up -- and their union listened to their voices.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter: @jaysonst
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