Saving the 2022 season was the biggest, most immediate effect of MLB and the players agreeing to a deal to end the lockout. With 162 games locked in, though, our attention can turn to the momentous news inside that deal.
The collective bargaining agreement that will spring from the negotiations governs and shapes the sport in basically every way you can imagine. Over the next five years, we will be watching a version of baseball explicitly adjusted by the push and pull of the talks.
There is a new, bigger playoff format. There are a number of major economic changes that vastly improve the situation for younger players, but there are also tweaks that will visibly affect the on-field product and fan experience.
These are five of the most notable CBA changes to know.
The DH is universal
Seemingly the least contentious part of the entire CBA negotiation was deciding to bring the designated hitter to the National League permanently. As early as the owners meetings in December, this rule change was set.
Tested during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the universal DH scores points with players for the expended market it provides for a group of hitters, and for eliminating the risk of injury for pitchers in the box and on the base paths. Both Jacob deGrom and Jimmy Nelson have suffered significant injuries in recent seasons doing what was, at best, a tertiary part of their jobs.
There is a subset of NL fans that remains staunchly anti-DH, but this tug of war has been won.
We could see the impact of the switch almost immediately. There are a lot of new teams that could suddenly be interested in employing prominent free agents like Nelson Cruz, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. It may also change the calculus for some teams in pursuit of Freddie Freeman — giving, say, the Los Angeles Dodgers another everyday lineup spot to work with in assembling their team.
A balanced schedule is coming in 2023
Schedules are going to be a little less division-packed starting next season. In a move that dovetails with a broader postseason field — and thus a more interconnected race for October — the league will cut down on division matchups.
The exact plan is reportedly still under construction, but we know everyone will play everyone in future seasons. Where interleague play has been restricted to one division’s worth of opponents per year, plus a rival or two, the schedule will include at least one series against each opposing club regardless of league.
That’s a significant change for fans who are, realistically, aware of the entire league now given the advent of MLB.TV and more nationalized media coverage of the sport. So if you live in Detroit and want to see Juan Soto play in person, that will become a far less daunting prospect starting in 2023.
Baseball has a draft lottery
Tanking is about to get a little riskier. Teardown projects have already proved dicier in recent seasons, but a new draft lottery inserted into this CBA will severely cut down on the incentive to lose prodigiously.
The bottom three records in the league will have the same shot at the top pick, and every team that misses the playoffs will have some chance. MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis has the exact odds for every finisher.
There are also controls in the rules that would limit how many consecutive years teams can be eligible for the top-pick lottery. Baseball’s draft is always working with less certain information — and expecting less immediate impact — than the NBA or NFL versions, but the lottery nonetheless makes it less likely that a Cubs- or Astros-style run of futility pays off.
Doubleheaders, extra innings are back to normal
After a couple seasons of seven-inning doubleheaders, with pandemic schedule issues and safety protocols as rationale, twin bills will again consist of two nine-inning games. That’s especially notable given the adjustments to the schedule following the lockout will guarantee each team at least a couple of long days.
Where the DH was accepted, the automatic runner on second in extra innings is a 2020 experiment that will be dropped. Implemented as a way to prevent marathon games during a condensed schedule, this gimmick will disappear. The upswing will be a rise in the average game length since extra-inning contests will take longer, but expect MLB to act to counter that in different ways …
Other changes imminent with MLB’s new rules process
The most radical changes to the game to stem from this CBA probably aren’t hitting the field yet. The deal gives commissioner Rob Manfred a more streamlined path to making rule changes. In previous years, Manfred had to propose a rule change at least a year ahead of implementing it. Under the new CBA, he will be able to add rules by giving 45 days’ notice each offseason and conferring with a league-dominated committee.
Three rules have been reported as likely to take effect in 2023: A pitch clock, bigger bases to encourage stealing and a restriction on defensive shifts.
All would represent significant alterations to the game, though not as dramatic as the automated strike zone MLB has been testing in the minor leagues. If the league feels the automated zone is ready for prime time in the next five years, there is very little standing in the way of a move that could completely change the role of catchers and force the recalibration of the pitcher-batter chess game at the heart of the sport.
So yes, those pitcher at-bats are going away. And it may wind up looking like the smallest of changes in a revolutionary age of baseball.