Rounding Third and (Finally) Heading For Home

By: Theresa Nelson & Liam McMillin

It was looking a little sketchy, but baseball is finally back. After a bit of a pause, the long-standing unofficial Cincinnati holiday of opening day is tomorrow when the Cincinnati Reds (and every Reds’ fan who scored a ticket) will step into Great American Ball Park to kick off the 2022 season.  After a 99-day lockout, the owners and Players’ Union (MLBPA) came to a deal and a new collective bargaining agreement. The negotiations delayed the season—essentially, stealing the traditional home opener from the Reds like Joe Morgan would swipe second from just about anyone—and led to a number of changes between the players and the league, many focused on young players.

Collective bargaining agreements are contracts that govern the employment relationship between the employer and their employees, who are represented by the union. In baseball, these agreements typically run for three or four years. When the last agreement expired in 2021, many baseball and labor experts predicted an extensive negotiation. On the table were a number of contentious topics, including, minimum salaries, rule changes, and whether or not we’ll ever see the pitching-hitting likes of Joe Nuxhall ever again. It took a while, but here are some key changes from the new collective bargaining agreement:

  • Universal designated hitter (sorry, Joe)
  • Postseason now includes 12 teams instead of 10 (top team in each league get a first-round-bye)
  • To prevent sandbagging, the 18 non-playoff teams will be entered into a lottery for the first six draft picks
  • A newly created joint-committee formed to consider rule changes (think: robot umpires, pitch clocks, ghost runners) comprised of four active players, six members appointed by MLB, and one umpire, although MLB can make new rules with 1-year notice
  • Added advertising patches to uniforms and helmets (Can’t wait to see the marketing teams that see this!)
  • A pool of $50 million in bonus money for the top-100 pre-arbitration players (players in their first three years in the league) allocated using a statistical formula developed by the league and the union
  • Minimum salaries jumped up; now starting at $700,000 in 2022 (up from $570,000 in 2021), and an additional $20,000 every year for four years
  • If a prospect on a team’s Opening Day roster finishes in the top three of Rookie of the Year voting, or top five of MVP/CY Young voting, their team will receive an additional draft pick
  • Potential international draft (MLB to decide by July 25th)
  • Guaranteed contracts for arbitration-eligible players
  • Players can only be optioned to minors five times in a season
  • Increase in minimum salary for minor leaguers

These are just a few of the biggest changes. Overall, many changes focus on young players, incentivizing bringing them into the league sooner, and avoiding the service-time manipulation some were experiencing.

For many fans, all that really matters is that baseball is back. But, baseball negotiations give everyone a glimpse of how collective bargaining works, and how complicated and expansive the negotiations, stand-offs and agreements can get.

Labor negotiations don’t just happen in baseball, and Graydon’s Labor & Employment Group are cracker-jacks in these sort of matters.  If you have any questions about this or any other employment-related topic, please reach out to our Labor & Employment Group.