A different ‘hot stove’ for baseball

By Barry M. Bloom
Updated: September 30, 2010

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball free agents will be able to negotiate with all clubs when the clock strikes midnight five days after the end of the World Series, Major League Baseball and the Players Association announced Thursday.

The adjusted rule, negotiated by labor officials, representing MLB and the union, gives players 10 more days of open negotiations in 2010 and ’11 than they’ve had in the past. Up until this year, the originating club had a 15-day exclusive period to negotiate with its player.

“The resolution of this matter is part of our ongoing efforts to keep Baseball’s labor relations as positive as possible as we approach the next round of bargaining,” Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president for labor affairs and human resources, said.

The current Basic Agreement expires on Dec. 11, 2011, and full negotiations are expected to begin next year. The two sides have existed under relative labor peace since the strike that wiped out the end of the 1994 regular season and playoffs, and delayed the start of the ’95 season.

Labor negotiators for both sides also made a number of adjustments to other dates, such as offering arbitration to free agents and tendering contracts to players who are tied to each club. Non-tendered players join the pool of free agents.

The new date for offering contracts is Dec. 2, prior to the start of the Winter Meetings. In the past it was about a week later, just after the annual meetings concluded.

Arbitration must be offered to free agents by midnight on Nov. 23 if a club wants to keep its right to Draft-pick compensation. Free agents must accept by Nov. 30 if they want to negotiate only with their originating club.

Players with six years of playing time will automatically become free agents after the World Series under the new rules. In the past, players had the 15-day period to decide whether to file for the privilege.

The negotiations resolve concerns brought to MLB by the union about the way free agency was handled during the past two offseasons. The players did not achieve everything they set out to accomplish, but the union’s Executive Board views the end result as preferable to a continued process of filing and litigating cases under the Grievance and Arbitration provisions of the Basic Agreement, the union said in a release.

“The agreement provides a meaningful response to the MLBPA’s concerns about the operation of recent free agent markets,” MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner said in the release. “It is intended to facilitate negotiations between clubs and players throughout the salary structure.

“The agreement was approved by the MLBPA’s Executive Board, after consultation with a significant number of affected players and their agents. Those affected players, who had the most to gain if the union had successfully litigated these claims, sacrificed for the benefit of players going forward, and deserve our praise and gratitude.

“The Commissioner’s Office worked productively and creatively with the union to resolve our differences. I hope that we can build on this momentum when we begin bargaining for a new Basic Agreement later this year.”

The new rules also place restrictions on how all parties conduct negotiations during the free agency process to avoid collusion or any perception of collusion. It also places restrictions on how those parties can negotiate openly through the media.