MLB sides sign 5-year labor contract

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MLB sides sign 5-year labor contract

NEW YORK -- Baseball players and owners signed an agreement for a new labor contract Tuesday, a deal that makes baseball the first North American professional league to start blood testing on human growth hormone and expands the playoffs to 10 teams by 2013.

The five-year deal collective bargaining agreement announced Tuesday, makes changes owners hope will increase competitive balance by pressuring large-market teams to rein in spending on amateur draft picks and international signings.

An initial positive test for HGH would result in a 50-game suspension, the same as a first positive urine test for a performance-enhancing substance.

"This was very important to me," Selig said. "This really is in everyone's best interest."

Random testing for HGH will take place during spring training and the offseason, but there is no agreement yet on random testing in-season. There can be testing at any time for cause.

"We've consulted with a lot of scientists on this, and we know there's a difference of opinion among scientists we've consulted," Weiner said. "We are sufficiently comfortable with the science to go ahead with testing, but we have preserved the right if there is a positive test for there to be a challenge - if that's appropriate - to the science at that point in time."

The sides will explore in-season testing, but the union wants to make sure it's done in a way that doesn't interfere with players' health and safety.

"The players want to get out and be leaders on this issue, and they want there to be a level playing field," Weiner said. "The realities, though, are that baseball players play virtually every single day from Feb. 20 through October. And that's unlike any other athlete - professional or amateur - who's subject to drug testing. We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can on the HGH issue, but that it be consistent with not interfering with competition and not interfering with players health and safety under those circumstances."

At a time when the NBA season is threatened by a lockout and NFL preseason was disrupted by labor strife, this deal ensures baseball will have 21 consecutive years of labor peace since the end of the 1994-95 strike.

"Nobody back in the '70s, '80s and early '90s, 1994, would ever believe that we would have 21 years of labor peace," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said.

The deal, which still must be ratified by the players and owners, is the first contract since Michael Weiner replaced Donald Fehr as union leader last year.

As for the playoffs, there will be an additional two teams starting in 2012 or 2013 that will give baseball 10 of 30 clubs in the postseason. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 advance.

The two wild cards in each league - the non-first place teams with the best records - will meet in a one-game playoff, and the winners will move on to the division series.

This agreement calls for the Houston Astros to switch from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013, leaving each league with three five-team divisions. It's baseball's first realignment since the Milwaukee Brewers went to the NL after the 1997 season.

On the economics, the threshold for the luxury tax on payrolls will be left at 178 million in each of the next two seasons, putting pressure on high-spending teams such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies not to raise their spending even more. The threshold rises to 189 million for 2014-16.

The minimum salary reaches the 500,000 mark in 2014, and then there will be cost-of-living increases in both of the following two years. There will also be a new "competitive balance lottery" that gives small-market teams extra selections in the amateur draft.

Major league free agent compensation will be completely revised in 2013, with a team having to offer its former players who became free agents the average of the top 125 contracts - currently about 12 million - to receive draft-pick compensation if a player signs with a new team. It eliminates the statistical formula that had been in place since the 1981 strike settlement.

In addition, the portion of players with 2-3 years of major league service who are eligible for salary arbitration will rise from 17 percent to 22 percent starting in 2013.

And there a new market disqualification test, preventing teams from large markets from receiving revenue-sharing proceeds - and lowering the amount the big teams pay as long as they stay under the payroll threshold.

Owners achieved their goal of reining in spending on amateur players coming to the major leagues. For high school and college players taken in the June amateur draft, there will be five bands of penalties, starting with a 75 percent tax on the amount 0-5 percent over a specified threshold for each team next year, based on its selection spot. For teams going 5-10 percent over, the tax will rise to 100 percent and they will lose their next first-round draft pick. If a team goes more than 15 percent over, it could lose its following two first-round draft picks.

For players taken in the 11th round and beyond, teams may give them signing bonuses up to 100,000 without it counting against the new threshold.

For international amateur signings from nations such as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, a luxury tax will begin with the July 2012-June 2013 signing season.

One-time A's draft pick Aaron Judge now toast of New York

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USATI

One-time A's draft pick Aaron Judge now toast of New York

Long before Yankees rookie Aaron Judge was gracing Sports Illustrated covers and taking part in “Tonight Show” skits, the A’s had visions of the hulking outfielder wearing green and gold.

Oakland was the first team to draft Judge, when he was a three-sport star coming out of tiny Linden High School, about 50 miles southeast of Sacramento.

The A’s took him in the 31st round of the 2010 draft but weren’t able to sign Judge, who was firmly set on attending Fresno State. Three years later, New York grabbed him in the first round of the 2013 draft. Now Judge is the latest Bronx sensation, the major league co-leader with 15 home runs and having shown off his comedic skills by starring in a man-on-the-street skit for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

On Friday, he’ll face the A’s for the first time when they begin a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. But Oakland’s front office and scouting department long have been familiar with the 6-foot-7, 282-pound right fielder.

Jermaine Clark, the A’s area scout who followed Judge during his high school career, recently dusted off a scouting report he filed back in 2010 on Judge.

“Big kid with a body to dream on,” the report read. “Untapped monster.”

While at Linden, Judge also starred in football and basketball, and he was a dominant pitcher and first baseman. The problem was Linden played in a small league against competition that didn’t approach the best prep baseball leagues in California.

Clark recalls entering Judge’s information into the A’s database.

“I remember putting his schedule in the computer, and none of the schools he was playing registered in our system,” Clark said.

But the A’s recognized the physical tools. They invited Judge to take part in a workout at the Coliseum leading up to the 2010 draft, an event they plan annually for some of the best draft hopefuls in Northern California.

“He definitely made a good impression,” A’s scouting director Eric Kubota said. “You’d have to be blind to not see the physicality and athleticism. That’s the kind of thing that jumps out on the field. He’s bigger and more athletic than any guy he’s around.”

Still, he wasn’t a slam-dunk choice to be taken high in the 2010 draft. In a time when the majority of top baseball prospects grow up as one-sport specialists, playing the game year-round, Judge was a throwback to the athlete who dabbled in multiple sports. Therefore, his skills on the diamond weren’t as polished, and his 6-foot-7 height also worked against him.

“The frame was so long that things didn’t look so fluid,” Clark said.

The A’s took a flyer on Judge, as Kubota put it, drafting him in the 31st round but knowing it was a long shot that he would sign. Both of Judge’s parents are retired teachers, and a college education was important to them.

So why waste a draft pick on him at all?

“Many of these kids that get drafted late in the draft, clubs don’t have the wherewithal to go sign them,” said A’s special assistant Grady Fuson, who’s heavily involved in the team’s scouting. “But sometimes you take those guys because things change over the summer” regarding a player’s decision-making.

Attempts to arrange a phone interview with Judge were unsuccessful. But over the winter, he discussed the A’s drafting him with The Record newspaper in Stockton.

“I was drafted in high school but made the choice to go to college,” Judge said. “I wasn’t mature enough at that point to get right into minor league baseball. I learned from some great coaches at Fresno. It really helped prepare me.”

The Yankees drafted him with the 32nd overall pick in 2013, a draft that was deep in quality collegiate outfielders. Eight picks before that, at No. 24, the A’s selected Texas high school outfielder Billy McKinney.

“I think in general we’re always looking for the player we like best when he’s available at that pick,” Kubota said. “That’s how it worked out.”

In July 2014, the A’s packaged McKinney along with their top prospect at the time, Addison Russell, and right-hander Dan Straily and traded him to the Cubs for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, a trade that in hindsight still has A’s fans slapping their foreheads.

Last season, the Cubs dealt McKinney to the Yankees as part of another high-profile trade that landed Aroldis Chapman in Chicago.

How did the A’s and so many other clubs pass on Judge throughout the first round in 2013? Keep in mind that Mike Trout somehow lasted until the 25th pick in the 2009 draft, when the Los Angeles Angels finally scooped him up.

The draft is an inexact science in which some players blossom, some fail, and some wind up starring for other teams. But when Judge takes the field against the A’s this weekend, Kubota said he won’t be watching through the lens of what could have been.

“I think in general we root for kids from Northern California, we root for kids we drafted,” he said. “Ideally we’d love them to be doing it in white spikes, but we’re happy to watch them succeed no matter where they’re at.”

Gray strikes out 11, Davis homers in A's 4-1 win over Marlins

Gray strikes out 11, Davis homers in A's 4-1 win over Marlins

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND -- Sonny Gray wanted to lighten the mood in the Athletics' clubhouse before the game so he lit a few candles in an adjacent locker, lowered the lights and had peaceful, pan-flute music piped into the overhead speakers.

Then the Oakland ace went out and put the Miami Marlins' offense to sleep with his best outing in two years.

Gray struck out a season-high 11 over seven innings, Khris Davis homered and the A's beat the Marlins 4-1 on Wednesday.

"We were just getting everybody nice and relaxed," Gray said of his pregame routine. "It was a good way to start the day. If we're going to put this thing together here . we're going to have to get everyone together and that's just a little way to do that."

Jed Lowrie matched his career high with four hits including two doubles, and Matt Joyce reached base three times and scored to help the A's earn a split of the two-game interleague series.

Gray (2-1) was dominant while earning his second straight win. The right-hander, who began the season on the disabled list because of a strained lat, retired the first nine batters, struck out the side twice and pitched out of a pair of jams to strand runners at third. Gray walked one and allowed three hits.

The 11 strikeout were one shy of Gray's career-best.

"That's what the really good ones do," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "They have a level and they have another level when they need it. We saw everything that makes him who he is today."

Ryan Madson pitched the eighth and Santiago Casilla got the last three outs for his seventh save, getting Tyler Moore to foul out with two runners on base to end the game.

Edinson Volquez (0-7) allowed three runs over six innings and tied the Marlins franchise record for most consecutive losses to open a season. The 33-year-old right-hander has dropped eight straight decisions overall dating to 2016, the longest drought of his career.

"When I signed on here I was hoping to be better than what I am right now," Volquez said. "The longer I'm pitching the way I did tonight, I'm good with it. I think I threw the ball pretty good today. One mistake. I threw a fastball to Davis and the ball keeps going."

The A's won despite three errors. They have 46 this season, most in the majors.

Dee Gordon singled and scored Miami's lone run.

LOWRIE WARMING UP:
Lowrie doubled and scored on Davis' 14th home run of the season, a two-out opposite field shot off Volquez. Lowrie added an RBI double in the fifth then singled in Adam Rosales in the seventh. It was Lowrie's team-leading 16th multi-hit game of the season and extended his modest hitting streak to six games. "Really consistent the whole year," Melvin said of Lowrie, who went 13 for 25 on the homestand. "Physically he feels better than he ever has. Durability-wise he's been out there more. I consistently talk to him about DH, but no, he wants to play."

TRAINER'S ROOM:
Marlins: LF Christian Yelich did not play and is day to day after suffering a right hip flexor injury during Tuesday's win.

Athletics: 1B Yonder Alonso wore a protective wrap around his right wrist and was held out of the lineup after getting hit by a pitch. Melvin expects Alonso to be in the lineup Friday in New York. . RHP Jesse Hahn, who left his start Tuesday with a triceps strain, underwent an MRI test but results were unknown . LHP Sean Doolittle (left shoulder strain) will throw live batting practice Saturday in extended spring training in Arizona. . RHP Bobby Wahl was placed on the 10-day disabled list with soreness in his shoulder and biceps tendinitis. RHP Zach Neal was called up from Triple-A Nashville.

UP NEXT:
Marlins: RHP Dan Straily (2-3) faces the Los Angeles Angels for only the second time in his career Friday in Miami. Straily has failed to make it past the fifth inning in seven of his nine starts this season.

Athletics: RHP Kendall Graveman (2-2) pitches against the Yankees on Friday when Oakland begins a three-game series in New York. Kendall is winless in five starts since coming off the disabled list.