- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Major League Baseball and its players yesterday announced the completion of a new labor agreement that assures there will be no work stoppages in baseball until at least 2011.

The deal, struck after months of relatively smooth negotiations, makes only minor changes to the previous labor agreement signed in 2002. It was completed earlier than any previous agreement in baseball history, mainly because the overall economic health of baseball is good, and because there were few broad, philosophical issues that divided the two sides, negotiators said.

“This is historic in a number of ways,” commissioner Bud Selig said at a press conference in St. Louis before Game 3 of the World Series. “It gives us the opportunity to expand the golden age and grow the game in all ways unimpeded by labor conflicts.”

Baseball produced $5.2 billion in revenue this year and attracted a record 76 million fans, a far cry from previous negotiations that were made tense by the reality of cash-strapped clubs and the possibility of team contraction.

The most controversial issue facing baseball and its players since 2002 — the use of steroids in the game — was largely resolved last November when the two sides agreed on stricter testing and penalties. With that highly volatile issue out of the way, baseball and the players union were left to haggle over details of free agency and revenue sharing, on which there were only mild disagreements. The talks, Selig said, were helped along by an atmosphere of “dignity and trust,” and a desire to keep the discussions as private as possible.

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the MLB Players Association, was also complimentary of the tenor of the negotiations.

“We were able to conclude these new agreements before the expiration of the current contracts because the two parties brought to the table, along with serious concerns, a respect for the positions and needs of the other,” Fehr said. “As a result, the discussions were workmanlike and pragmatic, and, while difficult on some issues, the talks were conducted in a mutual attempt to get the job done.

The deal marks the second consecutive time — and only the second time ever — that negotiations ended without a strike or lockout. The 2002 talks went up to the final hour of an Aug. 30 strike deadline imposed by the players, but the contract was signed without a work stoppage.

Under the agreement, revenue sharing remains relatively unchanged, with larger-market clubs transferring $326 million of local revenue to smaller market clubs beginning next season. The luxury tax remains the same, but the payroll threshold will increase from $136.5 million this season to $148 million next year, with an annual increase of just less than 5 percent until 2011.

Next year’s minimum player salary will increase to $380,000, with slight increase through 2011. But there will be no official payroll minimum or cap ensuring that baseball will remain the only pro sports league without a hard ceiling or floor on team payrolls.

There was one significant change relating to the June First-Year Draft. If a team is unable to sign a first- or second-round pick, the team receives the same pick in the subsequent draft as compensation. A club that fails to sign a third round pick will receive a sandwich pick between rounds three and four.

The new agreement also alters the rule allowing teams to be compensated with draft picks if they lose players to free agency. Beginning next year, only teams that lose players ranked in the top 20 percent of their positions (“Type A” players) will receive a direct draft pick from the signing club. The loss of “Type B” free agents will be compensated with a sandwich pick, and there will be no compensation for the loss of “Type C” players.

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