NEW YORK – Now comes the test: Will baseball players be happy with their new collective bargaining agreement in 2026?
They clearly were unhappy with the just-expired five-year contract, which saw payrolls drop to their lowest level since 2015.
The agreement reached Thursday raises the competitive-balance tax threshold by $34 million over five years, up from a $21 million hike over the 2017-21 deal and an $11 million rise from 2011-16.
“I think that the MLBPA historically has wanted a market-based system. Over multiple negotiations that has been a primary objective of theirs,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said after Thursday’s deal ended a 99-day lockout.
“Markets produce market results. And I think that the changes that were made in this agreement moved dramatically in their direction on topics like the CBT threshold, and I think you’ll probably see a little different market results as a result of the changes.”
Players and management have had tense relations in recent years. Manfred said he hopes to improve that.
“I expect there to be disagreements, particularly when the interests and passions that the players have for protecting the game and the integrity of it is as strong as it is,” union head Tony Clark said at a news conference Friday.
Young star players were the biggest beneficiary of the deal.
Shohei Ohtani earned $545,000 in 2018, when he was voted AL Rookie of the Year. Had the new agreement been in place then, he would have earned an additional $750,000.
Cody Bellinger was at $605,000 in 2019, when he won NL MVP. Under the new deal, he would have gotten an extra $2.5 million.
The minimum salary goes up from $570,500 to $700,000, a 22.7% rise that is the largest in a single season since 2003.
The union also hopes the deal boosts the middle: The median salary was $1.15 million at the start of last season, according to calculations by The Associated Press, down 30% from the $1.65 million record high at the start of 2015.
“The deal pushes the game forward,” Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole, a member of the union’s executive subcommittee, said in an telephone interview with the AP. “It addresses a lot of the things that the players in the game should be focused on: the competitive integrity aspect of it.”
Veteran players in leadership hoped to get more. The union’s executive subcommittee voted 8-0 against the deal: Zack Britton, Jason Castro, Cole, Francisco Lindor, Andrew Miller, James Paxton, Max Scherzer and Marcus Semien. Five of the eight are represented by agent Scott Boras, and Castro, at $3.5 million, is the only one of the eight who earned under $12 million last year.
Team player representatives voted 26-4 in favor, leaving the overall player executive committee vote 26-12 to approve.
“You call it a division, I call it a healthy dialogue and conversation,” Clark said. “From our standpoint, the process worked. Each group and each team, each player, have had an opportunity to engage their team and and voice their particular vote against the backdrop of the other 25 members or 39 members, I guess I should say, of their club.”
“The individual subcommittee members who were invested from start to finish, who were pushing to make the gains that we all wanted to make, they offered their vote against the backdrop of that democratic system,” he said.
Clark and Manfred notably did not have a joint news conference. Clark chose to wait a day for his.
“I spoke to Tony after their ratification vote. I told him that I thought we had a great opportunity for the game in front of us,” Manfred said. “One of the things that I’m supposed to do is promote a good relationship with our players. I’ve tried to do that. I think that I have not been successful in that. I think that it begins with small steps.”
The union pushed for and gained an amateur draft lottery in an effort to spur competition and provisions to discourage service time manipulation.
“The metrics that we used in analyzing the system leading up to this negotiation suggested to us the changes that needed to be made and the issues that needed to be addressed. And we looked to address them and did address them at the table,” Clark said. “As a result, we’ll determine here how the system responds to what we believe the fixes needed to be and address them accordingly at the end of the five-year term.”
Clark said Manfred called him on Thursday to congratulate him on the union's ratification vote.
“There’s a lot of work to do moving forward with respect to where our game is at and where it needs to head,” Clark said.
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