June 18, 2024

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The Sports Fanatics

MLB lockout: 10 important under-the-radar changes in CBA, including new schedule format and loss of Game 163

The 99-day owner-initiated lockout is a now a memory and spring training camps are open across Arizona and Florida. Later this week Cactus League and Grapefruit League games will begin, and Opening Day less than four weeks away. Baseball is truly back.

Like always, the new collective bargaining agreement is a massive legal contract that checks in at over 100 pages. MLB and the MLBPA spent the last several months haggling over minimum salaries and competitive balance tax thresholds, and that stuff is very important, but it’s also tedious. You can only listen to the two sides fight over money for so long before tuning it out.

The CBA covers plenty of non-economic matters as well, including boring but necessary stuff like the grievance process (it is unchanged) and how much time players have to report to the minors after being sent down (still 72 hours). Here are 10 important changes tucked away in the new CBA that you may have missed.

1. No more rotating interleague play

Beginning in 2023, the schedule will include fewer intradivision games and at least one series with every other team, including those in the other league. The rotating interleague schedule is going away and we no longer have to wait three years to see every interleague matchup. Here’s how the new schedule will work:

  • 56 games within division: That’s 14 games against each of the other four teams, down from 19 games now. Teams will play four series (one three-game and and one four-game, each at home and on the road) against the other teams in the division.
  • 60 games against rest of league: Clubs will play six games (three at home and three on the road) against the 10 teams in the other two divisions in their league. That’s more or less what we have now, though there are a few four-game series each year.
  • 4 games against “rivals”: Some rivalries are obvious (Yankees vs. Mets, Giants vs. Athletics, etc.), others not so much (Padres vs. Mariners?). Going forward, rivals will play four times each year, two at home and two on the road. Right now it varies by year.
  • 42 other interleague games: Against the other 14 teams in the other league, teams will play one three-game series each season. They will alternate home and road each year. So it’ll be Red Sox vs. Mets at Fenway one year, Citi Field the next.

I’m a fan of the new schedule format. Interleague play is a great marketing tool — why should fans in, say, Pittsburgh have to wait three years (or maybe even six) to see Shohei Ohtani? — and this balances the schedule a bit. The unbalanced schedule can wreak havoc on division races and cloud how we view teams. With this more balanced scheduled, we’ll get a better read on every club’s true talent level.

2. No more Game 163 tiebreakers

Game 163 tiebreakers are gone. Long live Game 163 tiebreakers. All ties will broken mathematically (using a cookbook formula based on head-to-head record, run differential, etc.) going forward, even ties in which one team makes the postseason and one team does not. No longer will two teams play an extra game to break a tie in the standings at the end of the season.

There have been some all-time great Game 163 tiebreakers and I will miss them. There was Bucky Dent’s home run in 1978, Al Leiter’s two-hitter in 1999, and the absolute chaos that was Tigers vs. Twins in 2009.

MLB is doing away with Game 163 tiebreakers to make sure the new best-of-three Wild Card Series fits into the current postseason schedule, and avoid pushing the World Series back into mid-November. File this one under “thanks, I hate it.” I get it, but Game 163 tiebreakers rule!

3. More games in other countries

As part of the new CBA, MLB has committed to playing games (or “tours”) in Asia, the Dominican Republic, London, Mexico, Paris, and Puerto Rico. Paris! They should make the players wear berets instead of caps. For now “Asia” is broadly defined, but seeing how MLB has already played several series in Japan, I hope the league goes to South Korea or Taiwan to change things up.

Paris and the Dominican Republic are the new locations where MLB has yet to stage regular season games, and South Korea and Taiwan would be new as well. Every few years MLB sends an All-Star team to Japan for a series of exhibition games and it sounds like we could see another tour in the near future. MLB’s last All-Star Tour was in 2018. The MLB team went 1-5.

Also, MLB has committed to more games in non-MLB locations in the United States, similar to the annual Little League Classic in Pennsylvania and last year’s Field of Dreams Game in Iowa. Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey, one of the two Negro League ballparks still standing, is said to be on the radar for a regular season game(s).

4. New trade deadline dates

The new CBA gives commissioner Rob Manfred the ability to schedule the trade deadline anytime between July 28 and Aug. 3. The trade deadline is traditionally July 31, though occasionally it gets shuffled around. Just last year the trade deadline was moved to July 30 because July 31 fell on a Saturday, and the logistics of making trades while players were on the field playing day games was a concern.

It would make sense to push the trade deadline to Aug. 3 this year given the delayed start to the season following the lockout. July 31 is a Sunday anyway, so the league would again run into those logistical problems of players on the field being traded before the 4 p.m. ET deadline. My guess is the trade deadline will be July 31 more often than not, but now Manfred is free to move it up three days or push it back three days as he sees fit.

5. New draft order

MLB and the MLBPA agreed to a draft lottery as part of the new CBA. It covers the first six picks and is an attempt to curb tanking. I’m not sure it will be an effective deterrent, but it’s better than nothing. There are also rules prohibiting teams from selecting in the lottery so many years in a row. All 18 non-postseason teams are eligible for the lottery. Here are the odds to get the No. 1 pick:

MLB also adopted an NFL-style draft order in which postseason teams draft in order of their finish. Previously the MLB draft order was the reverse order of the previous year’s standings. Nice and straightforward with no movement up or down. Now the draft order has a lottery and a postseason finish component. This is the structure of the new draft order:

  • Picks 1-6: Lottery
  • Picks 7-18: Non-postseason, non-lottery teams in reverse order of the previous year’s standings
  • Picks 19-22: Wild Card Series losers
  • Picks 23-26: League Division Series losers
  • Picks 27-28: League Championship Series losers
  • Pick 29: World Series loser
  • Pick 30: World Series winner

Teams in each “tier” from picks 19-28 are sorted by revenue-sharing status and then regular season record (teams that receive revenue sharing pick before teams that pay revenue sharing). The Braves went 88-73 last season and hold the No. 20 pick in this summer’s draft. Under the new draft format, they would hold the No. 30 pick because they won the World Series. 

The new draft format is a bit more fair and better reflects the competitive landscape. Whether it deters tanking in a meaningful way remains to be seen, though I think this format is better for the game than the old reverse order of the standings format.

6. Draft and follows return

Hardcore fans who get deep into the weeds on prospects will remember the old draft and follow system, or DFE (short for draft, follow, and evaluate). Under the old DFE system, teams could draft a player and retain his rights for one year as long as he went to a junior college. They could monitor the player’s development in school and sign him the next year. Yankees icons Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada were notable DFEs back in the day.

DFEs went away when MLB instituted a draft signing deadline in 2007, and now the league has brought them back. As part of the new CBA, teams retain a player’s rights until the next year’s draft as long as he goes to a junior college and was drafted after the 10th round. All others are subject to the signing deadline. Any amount over $225,000 given to a DFE counts against the team’s draft bonus pool, so clubs will have to budget accordingly.

The DFE system benefits both the team and player. It also benefits fans, who get a fun new (old, really) way to follow prospects. Teams get extra time to evaluate a player before signing him to a contract, and the player gets another option. Following his junior college season the player can either sign with the team that drafted him the previous year, or re-enter the draft. He can always transfer to a four-year college as well. 

7. Higher minor-league minimum salary

The MLBPA wanted to put more money in the pockets of players early in their careers, and the most straightforward way to do that is a higher minimum salary. As part of the new CBA, the MLB minimum salary rose from $570,500 last year to $700,000 this year. It is the largest minimum salary increase in the first year of a new CBA in terms of total dollars in history.

The minor-league minimum salary for 40-man roster players (i.e. MLBPA members) went up as well. Last season players on their first contract, meaning their first year on a 40-man roster, earned $46,600 in the minors. Players on what is called their second contract, which is every contract after the first (even if it’s the player’s third, fourth, etc. contract), made $93,000 in the minors. Here are the new minor league minimums:
















The 22.7 percent increase in minor-league minimum salary is the same as the 22.7 percent increase in the major-league minimum salary. And to be clear, the new minor-league minimum salary applies to the 40-man roster players only. Non-40-man roster minor leaguers aren’t protected by federal minimum wage laws and make less than $20,000 per season.

8. New option limits

We can call this the Louis Head Rule. Or maybe the Mitch White Rule. Or the Albert Abreu Rule. Head, White, and Abreu were among the players who went back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues at least 10 times last season. Not coincidentally, all three are pitchers who were part of their team’s bullpen shuttle. They’d get called up, pitch, then get sent down for a fresh arm.

The new CBA says players can be optioned to the minors a maximum of five times per season. After the fifth option, the player has to go on the waivers to go to the minors. Every player gets three minor-league option years, meaning seasons in which they can be sent up and down without requiring waivers. Now within those three seasons, players can only be sent down five times each year.

This is a meaningful quality of life improvement for players on the big-league bubble. Even as a high-level baseball player, living out of a suitcase and spending so much time at airports is a drag. The result of this rule will be longer stays in the big leagues and perhaps more players getting opportunities as well. Teams will have to plan their roster moves a little more carefully.

9. New waivers rule

This we can call this either the Jacob Nottingham Rule or the Joel Payamps Rule. Last season Nottingham went from the Brewers to the Mariners to the Brewers to the Mariners on waivers in the span of 22 days. Payamps went from the Red Sox to the Blue Jays to the Red Sox to the Blue Jays in the span of 28 days. That must’ve been a whirlwind.

The new CBA has a rule to prevent Nottingham and Payamps-like adventures. Now a team that claims a player on waivers goes to the back of the line whenever the player is placed on waivers later that year. For Nottingham, the Mariners would’ve been bumped to the end of the waiver priority order the second time the Brewers waived him. Every other team would have had a chance at him before Seattle.

Players can still go on waivers several times a year with this rule, which isn’t great, though it lessens the chances he goes back and forth between the same teams multiple times. It will force a team to think twice before putting a player on waivers, because they will be at the back of the waiver line should he go on waivers again later in the season, and thus less likely to get him back.

10. ‘Emerging’ countries in an international draft

As part of the new CBA, MLB and the MLBPA agreed to continue discussing an international draft in the coming months. If the two sides agree to an international draft by July 25, the qualifying offer system goes away and the international draft begins in 2024. If the two sides don’t agree to an international draft by July 25, the qualifying offer system remains.

In the event of an international draft, tucked into the CBA is a provision to help grow the game in “emerging” countries. “Emerging” countries are defined as those from where fewer than 0.5 percent of players are selected in the three previous international drafts (that’s nine players in three years of the 20-round draft). Teams that draft players from “emerging” countries are given additional picks intended to foster scouting and development in these countries.

Aruba stands out as a prime “emerging” country. Only six big leaguers ever have been born in Aruba, most notably Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and there is surely talent to be fostered in a country that isn’t far from the traditional baseball hotbeds of Curacao and Venezuela. India and Europe are other potential “emerging” markets for international players.