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MLB, union reach labor deal, likely saving 162-game season for 2022

Players have been locked out for more than three months as negotiators worked on key economic issues.

Major League Baseball owners and players struck a labor pact on Thursday, ending a 99-day lockout and saving a full 162-game season for this spring and summer.

Spring training will begin late next week, with regular season contests starting April 7.

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

When the lockout began, pictures of players vanished off team websites. But by Thursday evening, when the lockout was lifted, pictures had returned.

"Let’s play ball. Finally," Cincinnati Reds pitcher Amir Garrett tweeted, succinctly summing up the relief felt by players and fans alike Thursday.

Even though MLB will miss its originally scheduled March 31 Opening Day, the deal gives schedule makers a chance to fit in 162 games for each club by the end of September.

The agreement, which will be for five years, includes a handful of on-the-field rule changes.

The playoffs will reportedly expand to 12 teams, altering a 10-team format in place since 2012.

Under the new format, two division winners in each league will receive first-round byes. That'll leave one division winner and three wild cards in each league to play best-of-three rounds.

All games are now expected to have a designated hitter, meaning a full-time batter will hit for the pitcher. The American League has used a DH since 1973, but the National League had stuck with the old rules.

The contract will also allow teams to sell advertising on uniforms for the first time.

Since the most recent collective bargaining agreement expired Dec. 1, owners have stopped all off-season transactions — such as trades and free-agent signings — and barred players from training in team facilities.

A slew of top players are still free agents, meaning the next four weeks will see a baseball-buying frenzy as stars such as Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, San Francisco Giants utility man Kris Bryant, Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story and Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos go up for bid.

Both sides walked away from the bargaining table not completely satisfied with deal, San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer told reporters Thursday afternoon.

“I’m not saying it’s perfect for the players. I’m not saying it’s perfect for the owners," he said. "But this is a big step forward.”

Management and the union had been far apart on key economic issues, including soft caps on team payroll and increased salaries for younger, typically lesser-paid players.

Under the new deal, a team can spend up to $230 million on player salaries before it must pay a luxury tax on money over that mark. The threshold will rise to $242 million by the fifth and final year of the deal in 2026.

The minimum salary for a major-league player was $570,500 last year. It will be about $700,000 in 2022, with annual raises to about $780,000 by the end of the deal.

A 162-game schedule for all teams was first set in 1962, and clubs have fallen short of a full slate only a handful of times.

Player strikes in 1972 and 1981 shortened the regular seasons before another walkout in 1994 forced the end of that playing year, with no World Series champion being crowned.

That work stoppage spilled into 1995, forcing a regular season of just 144 games.

The 2020 season was delayed four months by the coronavirus pandemic and comprised just 60 games, played largely in empty stadiums.