MLB owners ratify new labor deal to end lockout, preserve 162-game season

Major League Baseball’s team owners voted unanimously to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday, officially ending MLB’s 99-day lockout and clearing the way for a 162-game regular season that will begin April 7.

“I am genuinely thrilled to say Major League Baseball is back and we’re going to play 162 games,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said during a news conference. “I want to start by apologizing to our fans. I know the last few months have been difficult.”

Earlier Thursday, MLB owners and the players’ union reached an agreement on a new labor deal, but the owners needed to sign off on the agreement. Now official after a unanimous 30-0 vote, MLB’s three-month labor dispute comes to an end and spring training quickly approaches.

With the conclusion of the second-longest work stoppage in baseball’s history, spring training camps will open Sunday, and free-agent signings can begin Thursday night.

The agreement materialized after discussions heated up this week, when the league made a proposal that significantly bridged the gap in the competitive-balance tax — a key issue in the final stages of talks.

A disagreement about an international draft threatened negotiations and caused MLB to cancel two additional regular-season series Wednesday, but those issues were resolved Thursday morning. The league then delivered a full proposal to the MLBPA, which it voted to accept by a 26-12 margin.

The new collective bargaining agreement covers almost all aspects of the sport, but baseball’s core economics were spotlighted in the negotiations.

Along with the new CBT — which jumps from $230 million to $244 million over the five-year deal — the minimum salary for players with less than three years of Major League service time increases from $570,500 to $700,000, eventually growing to $780,000.

In addition, a bonus pool worth $50 million will be distributed among those younger players who have yet to reach arbitration.

Other elements of the deal include: postseason expansion to 12 teams; advertisements on player jerseys and helmets; a designated hitter in the National League; implementation of a draft lottery; and a 45-day window for MLB to make rule changes — among them a pitch clock, larger bases and a ban on shifts in the 2023 season.

Negotiations centered on a new bargaining agreement started last year and moved slowly leading up to the Dec. 1 expiration of the previous agreement. The league and players’ union made little progress in the months prior, and owners locked out the players just after midnight Dec. 2.

Talks didn’t resume until 43 days later, and by the time the scheduled opening of spring training in mid-February arrived, the gaps between the sides remained significant enough that the chance of losing regular-season games seemed certain.

In the end, owners and players found common ground and struck a deal to prevent the second shortened season in the past three years. The 2020 season was reduced to just 60 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mandatory spring training report date for all clubs is Sunday. Exhibition games will start March 17 or 18.

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