How the new Collective Bargaining Agreement affects the White Sox (and baseball), Part IV

This is the final post in my four part epic on the new CBA.  Read Part I, Part II and Part III.  This post will be the catch-all, covering many of the smaller changes.  Some of it is really inside baseball stuff and I've put those things towards the end of the post.

Instant replay

Instant replay will be expanded to include fair/foul and "trapped" ball plays.  Just another step towards the day when robot umpires rule America.  This continues baseball's trend of incrementally implementing review of various plays.

All-Star Game

If selected to the All-Star team, participation in the All-Star Game will be required unless the player is unable to play due to injury or is otherwise excused by the Office of the Commissioner.  Appears to be another attempt by Bud to make the All-Star Game mean something.

Drug testing

Commencing in Spring Training 2012, all players will be subject to hGH blood testing for reasonable cause at all times during the year. In addition, during each year, all players will be tested during Spring Training. Starting with the 2012-2013 off-season, players will be subject to random unannounced testing for hGH. The parties have also agreed on a process to jointly study the possibility of expanding blood testing to include in-season collections.

While still leaving a lot to be desired, baseball can continue its claim of having the most comprehensive drug testing regime of any North American professional league.  There is apparently some debate whether hGH actually is "performance-enhancing".  I recall similar debates about steroids.  Regardless, hGH is viewed by the public as performance-enhancing so, if nothing more, it is a good PR move.

Revenue sharing

The net transfer value of the Revenue Sharing Plan will be the same as the current plan. Net transfer amounts will continue to grow with revenue and changes in disparity.

The big change is that the fifteen clubs in the largest markets will be disqualified from receiving revenue sharing by 2016.  This obviously makes sense because if you're in a large market, you're doing it wrong if you need welfare from the other owners.

The revenue sharing funds that would have been distributed to the disqualified clubs will be refunded to the payor clubs, except that payor clubs that have exceeded the Competitive Balance Tax (the "luxury tax")  threshold two or more consecutive times will forfeit some or all of their refund.  This is an additional penalty for exceeding the threshold, though the amounts are so small that the Yankees and Red Sox probably won't even notice.

Luxury Tax

The threshold level of $178 million in 2011 will remain unchanged in 2012 and 2013. The threshold will increase to $189 million for 2014, 2015, and 2016. The tax rate will decrease to 17.5% for clubs that exceed the threshold for the first time, and the rate will increase to 50% for clubs that exceed the threshold for the fourth time or more. Rates will remain the same for clubs that exceed the threshold for the second time (30%) and third time (40%).

Only four teams have ever exceeded the luxury tax threshold: the Red Sox, the Angels, the Tigers and the Yankees. Only the Red Sox and Yankees have exceeded it twice.  The Yankees have contributed about 95% of the total contributions.

The rate increase to 50% is obviously directed at only the Yankees and Red Sox, as no team is likely join them in the exclusive four plus club.  Having the threshold increase only 6% in the five year life of the CBA is likely to increase the amounts taxed, as it is unlikely that salaries/payrolls will only increase 6% is unlikely

Maple bats

No new players will be permitted to use a low density maple bat during the term of the agreement.  So current players are grandfathered in.  We've all seen the increased prevalence of bats exploding and shards flying through the air towards players and fans.  In 2010, Tyler Colvin was "impaled" by a broken bat (not quite as bad as it sounds but still not good).  This is an attempt to minimize such events.

Minor league contracts

Rule XX(B) free agents signing minor league contracts who are not added to the Opening Day roster or unconditionally released 5 days prior to Opening Day shall receive an additional $100,000 retention bonus and the right to opt out on June 1.

Rule XX(B) free agents have major league experience and have been outrighted off a 40-man roster before and, thus, are not under team control if they are not on the 40-man at the end of a season.

Effectively, this makes it cheaper to add such minor league free agents to the 40-man roster than it is to stash them in AAA all season.  Obviously, the point is to make it easier for players to find major league jobs, as one might expect teams to release players instead of paying the money. 

This is an important change for clubs that are aggressive with minor league free agents (read: small market teams), as they won't be able to keep as much depth in the minors.  However, this may result in more players being freely available, so the effect may not be particularly noticeable.

Agents had begun to negotiate opt-out dates into contracts, particularly for the "better" minor league free agents, so this makes that the rule. 

The White Sox rarely sign Rule XX(B) free agents to minor league contracts so this change will not have much effect on them.

Fourth option

Now we're really getting inside baseball.  The CBA term sheet cryptically refers to "modifications" to fourth option rules.  Most players can only be optioned to the minors in no more than each of three seasons before he must pass through waivers to be sent to the minors. An "option year" is what matters.  A player could go up and down between the majors and minors ten times in a given season - but that is considered one option.  For those unfamiliar with the fourth option (all of you reading this):

A player may be eligible for a fourth option year if he has been optioned in three seasons but does not yet have five full seasons of professional experience. A full season is defined as being on an active pro roster for at least 90 days in a season. (If a player is put on the disabled list after earning 60 or more days of service in a single season, his time on the DL is counted.) The 90-day requirement means short-season leagues (New-York Penn, Northwest, Pioneer, Appalachian, Gulf Coast, Arizona Rookie, Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues) do not count as full seasons for the purposes of determining eligibility for a fourth option.

Essentially, players who signed major league contracts after being drafted or signed as international free agents (and thus were immediately placed on a team's 40 man roster) and were optioned to the minors in each of three seasons can be optioned a fourth time.  Also, players who spent considerable time on the disabled list, such as pitchers who miss the entire season after an arm surgery, may be eligible.

I had previously mused that Dayan Viciedo is a player who would be eligible for a fourth option because he signed a major league contract and used an option year in each of 2009, 2010 and 2011.  Agents hate this rule, for obvious reasons - it keeps a player under a team's control longer.  It's unclear exactly what is being "modified" but, for example, an elimination of the fourth option for non-injured players would mean that Viciedo could not be sent to the minors again without passing through waivers first.  Obviously, the White Sox hope he is in the majors to stay.  But there's the axiom about best laid plans.

Outright assignments

The term sheet also refers to modifications to outright assignment rules.  A player is "assigned outright" to the minors when he is removed from a team's 40 man roster, requiring him to be placed on waivers, and, if not claimed by another team, is assigned to a team's minor league affiliate.  Again, for those unfamiliar:

A player assigned outright to the minor leagues for the first time in his career must accept the assignment. Thereafter, a player has the choice of 1) rejecting the assignment and becoming a free agent immediately, or 2) accepting the assignment and become a free agent at the end of the season if he has not been returned to the 40-man roster.

A player with 3 years of Major League service may refuse an outright assignment and choose to become a free agent immediately or at the end of the season.

A player with 5 years of Major League service who refuses an outright assignment is entitled to the money due according to the terms of his contract.

Like with the fourth option, what is being modified isn't clear.  However, since modifications to both fourth option and outright assignment rules are mentioned together in the term sheet, it's likely the modifications will make it more difficult for players to be outrighted, such as by eliminating the rule forcing a player to accept the assignment the first time.

Weekend Waivers

Weekend waivers during the regular season will be implemented beginning in 2012. So if a team asks for waivers for a player on a Thursday, those waivers will now expire on a Saturday instead of a Monday.  This makes the process a bit quicker and makes roster management easier.

Tobacco

Players, managers, and coaches will be prohibited from using smokeless tobacco during televised interviews and club appearances. In addition, at any time when fans are permitted in the ballpark, players, managers and coaches must conceal tobacco products (including packages and tins), and may not carry tobacco products in their uniforms or on their bodies. Individuals who violate the policy will be subject to discipline.

Libertarians hate stuff like this because it's rather Orwellian.  The retort, of course, is that players are role models, mouth cancer really sucks and if this stops one kid from chewing tobacco, it's good.  This doesn't go as far as some wanted - chew has been "banned" in the minors since 1993, for example (though the ban is not all that well-enforced).  Seems like a reasonable compromise for the nicotine addicts.  And MLB/teams are certainly not the only organizations to prohibit their employees from using tobacco products at work.

Debt Service

MLB has limits on debt and leverage to ensure that teams can make payroll, open their stadiums and do all the other things that are required for a league to operate.  Considering the recent bankruptcy filings of the Rangers and Dodgers, this hasn't worked all that well.  The changes to these rules are pretty much irrelevant to the fan but I did find this one amusing: the debt of a club’s owner or related party will be covered by the "Debt Service Rule" if the debt is serviced, in whole or in part, using club funds or assets.  They should call it the Frank McCourt Rule.

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