MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark answers a question at...

MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark answers a question at a press conference in their offices in New York, Friday, March 11, 2022. Credit: AP/Richard Drew

After a 99-day battle during a lockout, the Players Association believes it has emerged in a much better spot than five years ago with the new collective bargaining agreement. But as much as this deal highlights what previously was wrong with the sport, the exhausting march to Thursday’s finish line also revealed the players’ pent-up acrimony toward Major League Baseball’s power brokers.

"This was a long, hard labor fight against a powerful adversary committed to maintaining the status quo or making it worse for players," union lead negotiator Bruce Meyer said. "Players were incredibly engaged, involved, educated and interested — not just in themselves, but in protecting their teammates and future generations of players . . . They remained unified throughout in the face of every pressure tactic in the book."

Those tactics involved no fewer than six MLB-issued deadlines during the past two weeks of negotiations, with only the final one, which suddenly popped up for 3 p.m. Thursday, actually being met to complete the deal, with a player vote shortly afterward.

Despite the resolution of the international draft issue — essentially tabling it for further discussion over the next few months — and favorable increases to most of the core economic issues, this CBA was not unanimously approved by the players’ side. All eight members of the executive board voted against the deal, and the CBA passed by only a 26-12 margin. Five of those members are Scott Boras clients, including Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole, and among the objections was a competitive balance tax that still felt too restrictive, even starting at $230 million this year and climbing to $242 million by the last year of the deal.

"I’m not going to get into our internal deliberations," union chief Tony Clark said. "You call it a division. I call it a healthy dialogue and conversation. At the end of the day, each player rep, the executive subcommittee, all had a common goal in improving the system."

The union spent the past five years living with the giant "L’’ from the last CBA. That anger spilled into these negotiations, which concentrated on getting raises for younger players, improving the sport’s competitive integrity and ferociously guarding against further restrictions on spending, such as anything that resembled a salary cap.

Even with the creation of a new pre-arbitration bonus pool of $50 million and the significant bump of minimum salaries from $700,000 to $780,000 over the five-year life of the deal, the union’s primary focus remained on the machinations of the CBT. While the union was able to keep the penalty rates at mostly status quo, the players did agree to a fourth payroll tier — sort of a Steve Cohen tax — that will be at $60 million above the first level, or $290 million for this season, with an 80% tax on overages (followed by 90% and 110% if consecutive years). With such harsh penalties, that has to be considered a brake on the biggest spenders.

"I’ve experienced real hard caps in the other sports and believe me, they’re much worse than this, as problematic as this is," Meyer said. "In terms of the highest threshold, it’s obviously not something we preferred. It was something that we agreed to in the context of negotiations in the course of getting other things that we liked in the agreement."

Meyer said MLB wanted "stiffer penalties," including the loss of a first-round draft pick. "We’ll see how it works out," he said. "If it ends up having too much of an effect, we’ll fight against it next time."

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