The decline in earning power for players in the middle — solid veterans whose production could perhaps be replaced by a rookie — might be accelerated in this deal. There are always unintended consequences. But there seem to be some aspects that are bound to make the game better.
Teams often hold top prospects in the minors in an effort to squeeze an extra year of service time from them before they reach free agency. Now, if a player places in the top two in voting for Rookie of the Year, he gets a full year of service time, no matter when he was promoted. That’s fair. So are the limits on the number of times a player can be optioned within a season, and the $50 million merit-based bonus pool to be distributed to players not yet eligible for arbitration.
The owners pushed for an international draft, a complex issue that several Latin-American players, like San Diego shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., passionately opposed. It took a while, but the league sensibly agreed to let the union study the topic and decide by late July, tying its passing to the elimination of the qualifying offer, a restriction on free agency.
Most encouraging, perhaps: the creation in 2023 of a joint committee, including four active players, an umpire, and six people selected by M.L.B., to consider rule changes like bigger bases, a pitch clock, infield shifts and the automatic strike zone. The committee can decide on a rule change and implement within 45 days — again, a sensible solution that gives players a voice in the rules of their workplace.
There are other logical wrinkles, like the universal designated hitter (nobody wants their favorite pitcher to hurt himself swinging a bat or running the bases) and a lottery for the top six spots in the draft, so the same team cannot guarantee itself the top pick by staying lousy for several years.
Advertising on uniforms is tacky, and we’ll have to see how the expanded playoff field plays out in practice; from here, 12 teams seems like too many. But if all this combines to make the game better, the acrimony will have been worth it. The league and the players gave themselves a chance to restore baseball’s standing in the national psyche. Please, don’t blow it.
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