Report: New MLB Labor Deal Close At Hand

SECAUCUS, NJ - JUNE 07: MLB commissioner Bud Selig speaks during the MLB First Year Player Draft on June 7, 2010 held in Studio 42 at the MLB Network in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

While the NBA implodes, Major League Baseball seems set to announce a new Collective Bargaining Agreement within the next week. But aside from five more years of labor peace, what will it mean?

I have an early nominee for best pre-Thanksgiving news: a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and five more years of labor peace in Baseball.

Yeah, huh? According to Jayson Stark, talks for a new labor accord are on hold until after the current owners' meetings wrap up on Thursday, but the new agreement might be wrapped up and signed soon thereafter. And if the deal does run for five years, though 2016, that would mean more than 20 years for Major League Baseball without a strike or a lockout.

Which, in case you haven't noticed, would compare quite favorably with the other big sports. So, huzzah for Commissioner Bud.

More from Jayson:

This deal, however, figures to be especially historic, as baseball positions itself for the 21st century. Among other things, it will pave the way for realignment of the sport into two 15-team leagues, adding a second wild-card team in each league, spreading interleague play throughout all six months of the regular season and making significant changes to the draft, free agency and the so-called "Competitive Balance Tax."

In recent days, the sides have found ways to come to a meeting of the minds on the last of the major issues that have prevented them from reaching an agreement earlier -- in particular, a plan for curbing spending on the amateur draft and a revamped draft-pick compensation system for teams that lose top free agents.

Assuming all these things actually happen, what's going to get the most publicity is the stuff at the top of that first graf. But once the novelty of the Astros in the American League and interleague play all the season-round wears off, those will seem but trifles.

What's really going to matter -- what smart guys are going to write books about -- is the other stuff, and particularly the supposed changes to the draft, which might be extended to cover international players, in which case we're talking about a complete revamping of the machinery that populates the 30 major- and 200-odd minor-league teams with upwards of 5,000 professional baseball players.

If the draft really is changed significantly, Major League Baseball will argue that it's all in the service of competitive balance. Cynics (i.e. realists) will argue that it's all in the service of saving money. The truth will lay somewhere in the middle, but farther toward the second of those. Either way, what's less interesting than intent is impact. And it's very difficult for anyone to say what will actually happen under a new draft regime.

There are reasons to worry. For one thing, the poor teams have actually spent a great deal of money in the amateur draft and on international prospects in recent years, in part because they were willing to buy American players out of college scholarships and in part because they were willing to outbid richer teams for the international players.

That might be gone.

For another, there's a school of thought suggesting that if teams are locked into "slotted" signing bonuses, baseball's going to lose a great number of top athletes to college football, with Bubba Starling -- the Royals first-round pick last June, and an excellent high-school quarterback -- being just one recent example. If Starling had been offered (say) $5 million rather than $7.5 million by the Royals, would he have gone off to play football for Nebraska?

We can't know. We may assume that Major League Baseball will lose some great athletes to other sports. If you lose one or two every summer but do promote competitive balance, that would seem a fair trade-off. If you lose 20 or 30, it doesn't. The figure's almost certainly in the middle, though, and it's the middle that's hard to figure.

As always, I just hope that someone who works for Bud Selig is doing some figuring.

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