A single trade deadline and an All-Star Game Election Day will be implemented in 2019 while roster expansion will happen in 2020 as part of a deal Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are set to announce Thursday, sources familiar with the agreement told ESPN.
Spurred by labor-relations discord amid a second consecutive free agent market that has left players disappointed, the mid-collective-bargaining-agreement negotiations represent a step forward between two sides that had squabbled privately and publicly. Perhaps the most important part of the deal isn’t the elimination of August trades, the tweaking of All-Star Game starter selections or the addition of a 26th player next year. It’s the provision that the sides will begin discussing labor issues imminently, far earlier than they typically would with a CBA that doesn’t expire until December 2021.
Those discussions, sources told ESPN, will center around the game’s most fundamental economic tenets — not just free agency but other macro issues with deep consequences. The bargaining over distribution of revenue could be the most difficult gap to bridge, with teams clearly paring back spending on aging players while players chafe at the notion that those 30-and-over are no longer worthy of the deals they received in the past. While a compromise could be reached in distributing more money to the younger players whom the current system underpays, the complications of doing so warrant a long runway for discussions.
Other subjects to be broached include the manipulation of service time that keeps the best prospects in the minor leagues to begin a season, the luxury-tax threshold that some believe discourage spending and the gathering of biometric data that has become commonplace among major league teams. While the incentive is strong to repair their relationship’s fissures — and perhaps even extend the current CBA, which guaranteed more than a quarter-century of labor peace amid $10 billion-plus a year in industry revenues — doing so will require significant compromise from both sides. The prospect of division internally in either party is palpable as well, whether it’s players young and old or owners large market and small.
There is nevertheless optimism from commissioner Rob Manfred and union executive director Tony Clark after the most recent bargaining ended with a deal. While the three-batter minimum per pitcher that MLB sought for the 2020 season was not agreed upon, the league does have the right to unilaterally implement it in 2020. It had the same ability to put a pitch clock in place this season but tabled it as part of the deal.
What will be in place come this summer are a single July 31 trade deadline and an Election Day. Deals after the non-waiver deadline made August a hotbed for incremental upgrades by teams, and the union’s hope is that getting rid of them will incentivize teams to be more aggressive in the offseason knowing that the fallback for August deals no longer is an option.
Though the consequences of the single trade deadline are unknown, the impact of an Election Day is clear: MLB gives itself a much-needed opportunity to market its players. Fans will vote online for All-Star starters, and the top three vote-getters will take part in a one-day election, which could lead to a bevy of clever electioneering, social-media engagement and displays of personality players rarely show.
More players will get to partake in it, too, come 2020. Regular-season rosters will expand from 25 to 26 players, with a maximum of 13 pitchers. The days of excessive September benches and bullpens will end, as teams can roster a maximum 28 players and 14 pitchers.