MLB players, owners reach agreement, ending lockout

Opening Day expected April 7. The White Sox are expected to open against the Tigers in Detroit on April 8. The Cubs are expected to open against the rival Brewers at Wrigley Field on April 7.

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Players will return to the field after MLB owners and the players’ union agreed to a new labor deal.

Players will return to the field after MLB owners and the players’ union agreed to a new labor deal.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Play ball!

On the 99th day of an owners lockout, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association reached a tentative agreement on a new labor deal Thursday that gets spring training up and running this weekend and starts a 162-game regular season on April 7, only one week late.

The White Sox are expected to open against the Tigers in Detroit on April 8. The Cubs are expected to open against the National League Central rival Brewers at Wrigley Field on April 7. The Sox’ home opener is April 12 against the Mariners.

Training camps open Friday, with a mandatory report date Sunday. Spring training games in Arizona and Florida are expected to start March 17 or 18. The Cubs are scheduled to play the White Sox at Camelback Ranch on March 18.

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

“Our union endured the second-longest work stoppage in its history to achieve significant progress in key areas that will improve not just current players’ rights and benefits, but those of generations to come,” union chief Tony Clark said. “Players remained engaged and unified from beginning to end, and in the process reenergized our fraternity.”

In what was a contentious negotiation that was clearly a bad look for baseball, talks intensified this week when the league proposed to bridge a sizable gap in the competitive-balance tax, the biggest issue in the talks. On Wednesday, the sides appeared close to a deal but an agreement wasn’t reached because of a dispute over an international draft proposed by the owners. After that was resolved Thursday morning, the league made a full proposal to the union.

The players executive board voted 26-12 in favor of the latest proposal. Included in that count was an 8-0 vote against by the union’s executive board. Player representatives, representing the rank-and-file, voted 26-4 in favor. Owners approved unanimously.

It was baseball’s second-longest work stoppage.

But it’s over, and players, most of whom have been working out and preparing for the season on their own, are scurrying to open camps to rejoin teammates and staff.

The deal also reopens free agency and the freedom for teams to make trades in a market that figures to be hectic. Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Kris Bryant and Carlos Rodon are among 139 free agents. Free agency opened Thursday night when owners ratified the agreement.

Sox general manager Rick Hahn’s focus will be upgrading second base and fortifying the pitching staff, both in the starting rotation and bullpen for a team favored to win the division but aiming for more. They signed reliever Kendall Graveman to a three-year, $24 million deal before the lockout and re-signed multipurpose infielder-outfielder Leury Garcia to a three-year, $16.5 million contract.

Garcia tops the current depth chart at second base after Cesar Hernandez’s option was not picked up. The Sox have expressed a willingness to explore trading reliever Craig Kimbrel and could use him in a deal for a second baseman, perhaps Jean Segura or Jeff McNeil. Or they can keep Kimbrel and potentially have the super bullpen they envisioned when they acquired him from the Cubs at the trade deadline last season, that is if Kimbrel emerges from the command issues that plagued him with the Sox.

The rotation also begs for contender-level depth behind Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Dallas Keuchel and rotation newcomer Michael Kopech, who pitched mostly in relief last season.

Right field is another potential area to address, although general manager Rick Hahn might be comfortable going with the combo of converted first basemen Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets and Adam Engel.

The new collective bargaining agreement expands the playoffs from 10 to 12 teams and introduces incentives to limit tanking. The minimum salary rises from $570,500 to about $700,000 and the luxury-tax threshold increases from $210 million to around $230 million this year. A new bonus pool was established for players not yet eligible for arbitration, which will increase salaries for young stars not yet eligible for free agency.

Rule changes in the new CBA include a universal designated hitter, no free runners in extra innings, banning of defensive shifts in 2023 and larger bases in 2023.

MLB had threatened to shorten the regular season by setting deadlines during negotiations, but in the end the full slate of games was saved by extending the regular season three days to Oct. 5. Each team will likely play three doubleheaders with nine-inning games.

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