In a year marred by lockouts to the NFL and NBA, it's good to see that at least one league has its act together. Negotiators for the MLB Players Association and the owners are coming close to finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement...five months before the start of spring training.
The major concessions from the players lies in HGH testing--a strong case had been made with the use of blood testing in the minor leagues--as well as in draft and international amateur spending. Rather than going to a hard-slotting system, the league is instead relying on taxes both for over-slot bonuses and overall spending in the draft (teams will be given a limit based on their draft location). A similar system will be in place for international signings.
In return, the players will have a curtailing of the free agent compensation system that have brought down salaries for the top talents in recent years. Both sides also agreed on the addition of a second wild card team in each league with a one-game, winner-take-all playoff round to decide which of the two will advance. It's a significant change to the playoff system, but a discussion for a different time.
So why couldn't the NFL and NBA get this over and done with in such a drama-free fashion? What makes the MLB so different?
Quite a bit, actually. The MLB lacks a key feature of the NFL and NBA: a salary cap. While both are curious things, with fluctuations and exceptions confusing matters for the everyday fan on a regular basis, they none-the-less set very real limits on how much money in any given year will go to the players. The MLB is rather more relaxed, with only a luxury tax in place (and that so high that very few teams end up playing it), allowing players to make as much as the market dictates they are worth.
It certainly doesn't hurt, either, that the MLB is not exactly wanting for money right now. Teams rarely run at a loss, and then usually only due to poor management as compared to the allegedly systemic problems faced by the NBA. Between playing 162 games a year and having multiple teams running their own networks, so long as there was no greed-motivated power play like in the NFL, the sides didn't have too much to fight over. It doesn't hurt, either, that the main concessions from the players will only be felt by those who have yet to enter the league.
Some day costs may get so out of hand that the millions don't flow quite so freely for owners. Should that time come, and the owners go looking for a salary cap, we could be in for a longer debacle than anything faced by the NBA this year. But until then, it's smooth sailing for the MLB--something we can all be thankful for.