Labor Baseball

Javier Baez, sporting an MLB logo during the 2017 playoffs, was one of many free agents who finalized contracts on Wednesday before the collective bargaining agreement expired. Baez got a six-year, $140-million contract from the Detroit Tigers. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

After successfully reaching four consecutive agreements without a stoppage, players and owners have appeared headed for a confrontation for more than two years.

“The lockout seems like a very likely scenario,” said pitcher Max Scherzer, a member of the union’s executive committee, after finalizing his new contract with the New York Mets.

Management negotiators left the union’s hotel about nine hours before the deal was set to expire and both sides said talks would not resume in the evening. Players said MLB did not make any new central economic proposals this week.

The union demanded change following anger over a declining average salary, middle-class players forced out by teams concentrating payroll on the wealthy, and veterans jettisoned in favor of lower-paid youth, especially among clubs tearing down their rosters to rebuild.

“As players we see major problems with it,” Scherzer said of the 2016 agreement. “First and foremost, we see a competition problem and how teams are behaving because of certain rules that are within that, and adjustments have to be made because of that in order to bring out the competition.”

Management, intent on preserving salary restraints gained in recent decades, rejected the union’s requests for what teams regarded as significant alterations to the sport’s economic structure, including lowering service time needed for free agency and salary arbitration.

Many clubs scrambled to add players ahead of a lockout and an expected signing freeze, committing to more than $1.9 billion in new contracts – including a one-day record of more than $1 billion Wednesday.

“It did feel like at least certain groups of free agents were moving more quickly the last few days,” Pittsburgh General Manager Ben Cherington said.

Two of the eight members of the union’s executive subcommittee signed big deals: Texas infielder Marcus Semien ($175 million) and Scherzer ($130 million).

“This is actually kind of fun,” Scherzer said. “I’m a fan of the game, and to watch everybody sign right now, to actually see teams competing in this kind of timely fashion, it’s been refreshing because we’ve seen freezes for the past several offseasons.”

The Texas Rangers led the spending spree, finalizing deals with Semien and shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million over 10 years).

The Detroit Tigers locked up Javier Báez on a $140 million, six-year deal, and right-hander Kevin Gausman landed with the Toronto Blue Jays for $110 million over five years. Twins center fielder Byron Buxton also finalized a $100 million, seven-year contract to remain with Minnesota, and the Chicago Cubs agreed to a $71 million, three-year contract with right-hander Marcus Stroman.

The Red Sox added two left-handed pitchers – James Paxton and Rich Hill.

Hill, 42, agreed to a one-year, $7 million contract, according to the Boston Globe. He was 7-8 with a 3.86 ERA in 158 2/3 innings for the Rays and Mets in 2021. He’ll be joining the Red Sox for the third time in his career.

Paxton agreed to a deal with the Red Sox late Tuesday night. The contract is for $10 million in 2022, with club options for 2023 and 2024 for an additional $25 million. Paxton had Tommy John surgery in April and is uncertain whether he’ll be able to pitch in 2022.

Boston also re-signed backup catcher Kevin Plawecki, who’ll earn $2.25 million in 2022.

Much has changed since the 232-day strike that cut short the 1994 season, led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years and caused the 1995 season to start late. That stoppage ended only when a federal judge – future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor – issued an injunction forcing owners to restore the work rules of the expired labor contract.

The average salary dropped from $1.17 million before the strike to $1.11 million but then resumed its seemingly inexorable rise. It peaked at just under $4.1 million in 2017, the first season of the latest CBA, but likely will fall to about $3.7 million when this year’s final figures are calculated.

That money is concentrated heavily at the top of the salary structure. Among approximately 1,955 players who signed major league contracts at any point going into the regular season’s final month, 112 had earned $10 million or more this year as of Aug. 31, of which 40 made at least $20 million, including prorated shares of signing bonuses.

There were 1,397 earning under $1 million, of which 1,271 were at $600,000 or less and 332 under $100,000 – a group of younger players who shuttle back and forth to the minors.

Among the other deals completed Wednesday:

• OF Avisail Garcia to Miami, $53 million over four years

• LHP Alex Wood to San Francisco, $25 million over two years

• INF Eduardo Escobar to New York Mets, $20 million over two years

• INF/OF Leury Garcia to the Chicago White Sox, $16.5 million over three years

• RHP Mark Melancon with Arizona, $14 million over two years

• C Yan Gomes to the Chicago Cubs, $13 million over two years

• RHP Yimi Garcia to Toronto, $11 million over two years

• RHP Corey Knebel to Philadelphia, $10 million for one year

• RHP Corey Kluber to Tampa Bay, $8 million for one year

• RHP Andres Munoz with Seattle, $7.5 million over four years

• RHP Dylan Bundy to Minnesota, $5 million for one year

• C Roberto Perez to Pittsburgh, $5 million for one year

LAMARR HOYT, who won the 1983 AL Cy Young Award with the Chicago White Sox, has died. He was 66.

The White Sox announced his death on Wednesday. The team said he died Monday in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, following a lengthy illness.

Hoyt went 98-68 with a 3.99 ERA in eight years in the majors. He also had 48 complete games, including eight shutouts, and 10 saves.

The 6-foot-3 right-hander was the 1985 All-Star Game MVP, pitching three innings of one-run ball in the National League’s 6-1 victory over the AL. That year with San Diego was the only All-Star selection of his career.

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