Collective Bargaining Agreement might be of interest to Oriole fans -

Rich Dubroff

Collective Bargaining Agreement might be of interest to Oriole fans

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Fans seem to have little interest in baseball labor issues. They watch the sport to escape workplace issues, not to discuss them.

This year might be different. A number of fans appear to be interested in the negotiations for the Collective Bargaining Agreement because some of the issues could be relevant to the Orioles.

There’s talk that the Orioles might send catcher Adley Rutschman, the overall top pick in 2019, back to the minors to begin the 2022 season. A short time at Triple-A Norfolk could buy the Orioles an extra year of Rutschman in the majors before he’s eligible for arbitration.

However, the timetable for free agency, which requires six years of service time, is likely to change, and I hope it does. Not only does the current system give teams the incentive to needlessly hold players down in the minor leagues, but it’s unfair to older players.

There’s been talk of a proposal that would grant all players free agency at age 29 ½. That’s not likely to fly with the players.

Young superstars who arrive in the majors at a young age — Ronald Acuña, Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis and Mike Trout, for example — can become free agents at age 26 or 27. A player like the 23-year-old Rutschman, who went to college, might have to wait until he was 30 or 31 before free agency.

One of the good things about baseball is that players arrive in the majors at different ages. The Orioles’ second-oldest player on the 40-man roster is reliever Cole Sulser.

Sulser graduated from Dartmouth and was drafted in the 25th round in 2013, when he was 23. It took Sulser until 2019, when he pitched in seven games for Tampa Bay, to make the majors.

After two seasons with the Orioles, Sulser is 31, and he’s still a year away from being eligible for arbitration — another practice that could change in the negotiations — and four years away from free agency.


Sulser had a solid year in 2021, but under the current system, he couldn’t cash in until just before he turns 36 in March 2026. It would be unlikely that there would be much of a market for a 36-year-old relief pitcher in free agency, but because of the six-year rule, Sulser might never be eligible for big money.

If Rutschman began the 2022 season at Norfolk, just for a few weeks, the Orioles would have to carry two catchers, one of whom would be let go as soon as Rutschman arrives. It will be difficult enough to find one accomplished catcher who’ll embrace the role as the backup/mentor for Rutschman, but if the Orioles decide they need two new catchers to begin 2022, that would be a waste of a 40-man roster spot.

Even without the roster-time argument, there were good reasons not to promote Rutschman at the end of the 2021 season. Having him play an entire season in the minors, his first, helped prepare him for the majors. Because of the canceled minor league season of 2020, Rutschman skipped High-A and began the season at Double-A Bowie.

Promoting Rutschman at the end of the 2021 season wouldn’t have created nearly as much interest as having him around for the start or the bulk of 2022 season would.

In 2009, Andy MacPhail, who ran the Orioles’ baseball operations, decided to send Matt Wieters to Norfolk at the beginning of the season. When he was brought to the Orioles in late May, attendance spiked and interest was created.

That delay enabled the Orioles to keep Wieters around through the 2015 season before he was eligible for free agency. After he accepted their qualifying offer, Wieters remained with the team another year, through 2016.

Two other issues relevant to Oriole fans are the so-called “tanking” process and a minimum payroll.

The NBA has tried to eliminate tanking with mixed success by instituting a draft lottery and adding an additional layer of playoffs. Both could happen in baseball.

The Orioles will have the first draft pick for the second time in four years in 2022. Although executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is confident in his ability to draft well regardless of position, the idea that a team doesn’t have an incentive to win is still pervasive among fans.

A minimum payroll is trickier because it would probably mean a maximum payroll, too, something that the Players Association has long fought.

There’s one new proposal that could be gaining traction, and it’s one that has been championed by Hall of Fame baseball writer Jayson Stark of The Athletic. Stark first heard of the idea last year from Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black.

It has been long thought that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement would contain a universal designated hitter, but Black came up with the idea of tying the starting pitcher to the DH. If a manager removes the starting pitcher from the game, then the team loses its DH.

It adds a layer of strategy and could help keep starting pitchers in the game longer. This year’s postseason has featured teams using openers and a series of relievers instead of a starter.

Fans enjoy watching great starters, and it’s been rare this postseason to see starters work past five or six innings.

The current CBA expires on December 1st, and there’s been little talk from either side, though that’s likely to change after the World Series. There is hope that a new agreement can be negotiated without a work stoppage, and that it will contain  improvements that the sport needs.

Note: Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins and first baseman/designated hitter Trey Mancini are finalists for American League Comeback Player in the Players’ Choice awards. First baseman Ryan Mountcastle is a finalist for American League Rookie of the Year. The votes are cast by major league players.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB



  1. HmmmImNotSoSureAboutThat

    October 22, 2021 at 7:24 am

    Thanks for the review of significant CBA issues Rich. Very interesting read. At first blush, I don’t think I am in favor of tying the DH to the starting pitcher idea, but it’s a very interesting idea/compromise proposal. Universal DH is my preference. Fingers crossed for smooth CBA negotiations and no delay of the 2022 season. Thanks again! Quite a string of good articles this week, much appreciated.

  2. Orial

    October 22, 2021 at 8:24 am

    Very thorough much needed break down Rich. I understand the playing time for young players being an issue but I also don’t wanna see the lesser teams lose a quality,young star to the Yankees,Dodgers,Red Sox,etc. when they’re in their prime and unfortunately that’s what will happen. So if Rutschman has to wait till May,June 1st for a call-up so the O’s have him a year longer-so be it. Selfish-maybe BUT it’s better than final outcome(Yankees catcher at age of 29). DH–yes universal,no–to Black’s idea. Anti-tanking procedures–hard to pull off considering you’ll need proof,not conjecture,that a team’s tanking.

  3. jimcarter

    October 22, 2021 at 8:33 am

    The Bud Black idea is beyond stupid. Someone came up with an idea to prevent tanking. Give the #1 draft pick to the team with the best record. The bottom feeders draft last. That’s a great incentive to try to win every game. Who says you can’t have a minimum salary without a maximum? We have a minimum age to obtain a driver’s license, but there’s no maximum. You can’t be President until you’re 35, but being 95 is fine.

    • CalsPals

      October 22, 2021 at 8:50 am

      Mockba 1980 was beyond stupid…universal DH….yes…go O’s…

    • HmmmImNotSoSureAboutThat

      October 22, 2021 at 1:34 pm

      Comparing salaries to ages is an interesting thing to do IMO. But then you started your comment with a “beyond stupid” and then suggested giving the #1 draft pick to the team with the best record. I haven’t recommended a Snickers in a while, but maybe consider a Snickers JC

  4. Phil770

    October 22, 2021 at 9:31 am

    Rich, thanks for raising this topic. Agree with you re:service time manipulation. Arbitration has to change too. Performance needs to be connected to payment. Soto should be paid for his performance now, not be overpaid via free agency.

    There are a number of ways to minimize the risk of teams tanking and being rewarded.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 22, 2021 at 9:40 am

      Thank you, Phil.

  5. Orioles20

    October 22, 2021 at 9:45 am

    I don’t see how you fix the service time issue. I don’t think the minimum age passes. A guy like Juan Soto is going to reach free agency at 25 that means the Nationals would get four extra years on him and his agent Scott Boras ain’t going for that. And if it’s based on the days accumulated on the roster that wouldn’t make sense. The whole thing is subjective to a front office they can always say the player needs to work on something.

  6. ClayDal

    October 22, 2021 at 11:18 am

    Tying the DH to the starting pitcher is interesting, but consider the consequences. You would be eliminating the David Ortiz’s, Edgar Martinez, Frank Thomas, and Harold Baines type players. In the case of an Ortiz who usually batted cleanup, he would be taken out of the game after possibly 2 at bats. Can’t see the players association going for a proposal that would lower a DH’s market value. Look at the Orioles this year. Would you have wanted Mancini pulled in the 5th inning every night? I like to see starters pitch longer, but sometimes it’s not a good idea

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 22, 2021 at 11:42 am

      On the other hand, if we keep having openers and bullpen games, the starting pitcher’s value plummets, and there are more good ones than star DH’s.

      If there’s a universal DH, there are more jobs for hitters, and they can always be moved from DH to a fielding position when the starter is removed, John.

    • ClayDal

      October 22, 2021 at 1:35 pm

      But let’s look at the Orioles for a second. Mountcastle at 1B, Mancini at DH. Or Vice versa. Chris Ellis goes his 4.2 innings and needs to be pulled. So where do you put Mancini or Mountcastle. 1B is covered. Maybe LF but Austin Hays is probably there. So basically you’re losing one of your best hitters for the last 4 innings. And you’re going to have to hit for the pitcher if you’re behind. Next year supposedly the roster will be at 26 again with a 13 man limit on pitchers. Leaves you with 13 position players and a 4 man bench. Minus the backup C, shortens the bench to 3. Unless they expand the roster to 28, going to be tough batting for the pitcher every game. Just don’t see a benefit to Black’s proposal. Just have the NL adopt the DH and we’ll have one set of rules and live happily ever after

  7. whiterose

    October 22, 2021 at 11:34 am

    As usual I have to repost my comment.
    “The votes are cast by major league players.”
    Not sure about Comeback, but Rookie is BBWAA.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 22, 2021 at 11:44 am

      The Player’s Choice is a separate rookie award from the BBWAA one. We don’t have a comeback player, just Rookie, Manager, Cy Young and MVP.

    • whiterose

      October 22, 2021 at 3:59 pm

      The Comeback Player of the Year Award recognizes the players who have re-emerged on the baseball field during a given season. Representatives of Major League Baseball and the editorial staff at, the official Web site of Major League Baseball select the nominees, six players from each League, for the Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Award. Those nominees are then featured on where fans of the game can vote for who they believe best deserves the award.

      • Rich Dubroff

        October 22, 2021 at 5:19 pm

        This award that I am referring to is awarded by the Major League Players Association. It’s a separate award from the one you’re referring to.

  8. Buzz1979

    October 22, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    We don’t have to worry about any manager awards here!

  9. jimcarter

    October 22, 2021 at 12:24 pm

    If baseball keeps monkeying with rules, I’ll ditch it just like I did basketball. One reason I follow the AL is because I can’t stand to see pitchers bat. Most aren’t capable of getting a hit and others look like they can’t wait to get the AB over with. Zack Britton was a rarity. He not only tired, but he looked like he EXPECTED to get a hit.

  10. Jersery O

    October 22, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    And on a different note, Evan Phillips was the winning pitcher for the Dodgers yesterday.


  11. HmmmImNotSoSureAboutThat

    October 22, 2021 at 1:41 pm

    CBA solution! 50/50 revenue split with owners and players and MLB players get minimum $750K salary and then ~$4M per WAR at the end of the season, plus bonuses for making the post season and each post season win.

  12. Boog Robinson Robinson

    October 22, 2021 at 1:46 pm

    Ya know …I’ve read up on it a little, but admittedly I don’t know/understand everything about when the old clock starts for a player reaching free agency … but what about this ….

    How about starting a player’s service time as soon as the player is put on the 40 man roster versus reaching the active roster?

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 22, 2021 at 2:05 pm

      There are actually two clocks, Ken. A player can become a minor league free agent after six years and a major league free agent after six years. Once a player is placed on the 40-man, he has three options before he must be waived to be sent down, another clock in a sense.

      It’s all to prevent teams from hoarding players.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        October 22, 2021 at 2:26 pm

        I understand what you’re saying in the most broad sense possible, but why let the clubs play games with the time they have a player under control? Keeping a player off an opening day roster even if only a month or two, simply to get an extra year of control seems a bit shady/unethical not to mention quite unfair to the player. The rules are about to change, so why not just get above board on this one now? Seems to me that now is he best time to clean it up.

        Not to make this about one player, but do we really think Adley Rutschman would have been overwhelmed had he played last year? I don’t for a minute. I wholeheartedly believe he was held down for either a) a service time issue OR .. b) the T-word. And now there is talk of holding him back to start the season. Please. He’s the best catcher in the organization. Treat him as such

        Shouldn’t baseball be a meritocracy?

        • Rich Dubroff

          October 22, 2021 at 3:20 pm

          I think Rutschman needed time in the minors because prior to this season he’d played so little. His offensive stats at Bowie were good, but improved at Triple-A. I just don’t think it would have been worth it to bring him at the end of a lost season for a month. You need something to promote to the fans, Ken, and starting him at the beginning of 2022 is a smarter move economically. No, he wouldn’t have been overwhelmed, but bringing him up wouldn’t juice the gate in late 2021 as much as it would in early 2022. The uncertainty about labor also was a powerful incentive to keep him down.

          I think the service time issue will be addressed, and there’s no reason to keep him down in 2022. As Singleton said, the fans have waited long enough.

          • Phil770

            October 22, 2021 at 3:46 pm

            Agree, Rich. Another item to be addressed may be 40 man roster as well as the 26 man active roster. If AR brought up this year, he would be on a 40 man roster and expose a keeper in the system or even added from another club.

        • Phil770

          October 22, 2021 at 3:36 pm

          Yes, it should be, but it isn’t now, primarily because of arbitration rules. Players union insists on guaranteed contracts with no performance criteria of threshholds. CD is a great example of what’s wrong with the system. He was grossly underpaid when he was performing and grossly overpaid when he was longer capable of contributing. Schoop is a good example of arbitration not being a fit for meritocracy. He was making $10M when traded to Milwukee. He performed poorly. Going to arbitration meant the Brewers’ offer would have to be 10M and then, the player could propose a raise and there is a risk it would be selected by the arbitrator. They non tender and he goes to Twins, for $7.5M, he has a decent year, but not enough to warrant a raise. Twins non tender. He then goes to Detroit for $5M – $6M. Twins may have kept him for less than $7.5M. Arb rules prevented it. The pay system needs more than a tweak to service ime, IMHO.

    • CalsPals

      October 22, 2021 at 3:24 pm

      Starting to sound like an owner…go O’s…

      • Phil770

        October 22, 2021 at 3:53 pm

        I am for meritocracy and eliminating the rules that reward tanking and overpaying in arbitration. Owners are no saints, but the union is not right about everything either.

    • CalsPals

      October 22, 2021 at 6:25 pm

      Sorry Phil, was referring to Rich, on my phone app I cannot choose whose response it goes under, always goes to the bottom…go O’s…

  13. willmiranda

    October 22, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    Bazooka (Antitank) Suggestion: the last team in each division loses its first round draft pick. Then there’d be competition at the bottom of the standings as well as the top.

  14. Raveonjo

    October 22, 2021 at 3:29 pm

    I love the Bud Black idea. Anything to keep the starters in longer is good for me. Rich is right on. We want to see great starters be great. I haven’t watched an inning since that wildcard game when two Hall of Famers, Scherzer and Wainwright were removed at the top of their game.

  15. Buzz1979

    October 22, 2021 at 5:19 pm

    Seems like some of those crappy pitchers would have been gone before Wynns!?

    • CalsPals

      October 22, 2021 at 6:25 pm

      Would agree…oh well…go O’s…

  16. dlgruber1

    October 22, 2021 at 6:55 pm

    I’m not gonna pretend I have the answers but here’s what I propose. I din’t think for a minute the players union would agree but anyway, put a limit on long term contracts to 4 years. It would give both players and owners a fair shake. It’s not just owners that lose when a guy like CD doesn’t perform. It gives guys like Adam Jones a chance to make even more money than he did in the final 2-3 years of his contract. I think it would be a win-win but what do I know.

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