CINCINNATI -- As Major League Baseball and the Players' Association spent the last several months negotiating a new labor agreement, Reds reliever Bill Bray essentially had a front row seat as his team's union representative.On Tuesday, a new five-year collective bargaining agreement was announced jointly by the league and the union. The deal is still considered preliminary because it needs to be formalized in writing and ratified independently by the players and owners. "I think it's a good deal," Bray said by phone while on vacation in Cape Cod, Mass. "It's nice to have things done at a convenient time, with no deadline crisis negotiating. Both sides wanted a deal and engaged in good negotiating. It went over eight months, and I learned a lot of things go into negotiating of this scale. I didn't realize how much got re-negotiated. Everything that's part of baseball is negotiable and anything is up for grabs." As the two sides neared an agreement that will mean 21 years of uninterrupted labor peace when it ends after the 2016 season, Bray said he was on conference calls every other day. He also attended meetings held in New York and Phoenix by new MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner shortly after the regular season ended. One of the components of the new deal that fans will notice most is the realignment of the leagues and expansion of the current playoff system. As was revealed last week, the Astros will move from the National League Central, where they competed against the Reds, to the American League West for the 2013 season. That will create 15 teams in each league. Interleague Play will happen throughout the season for the first time.
Starting in 2013, there will also be the addition of two more Wild Card entries to the playoffs that will play a one-game playoff, with the winner advancing to the Division Series. It's possible this plan could begin for the 2012 season, and a decision will be made by no later than March 1."I'm interested to see it get done," Bray said. "It's not a bad thing. Any time you add another team, you create more races with more teams in the hunt. It creates more excitement. It also gives guys more playoff exposure." When asked if having a one-game playoff after a 162-game season cheapens the regular season, Bray disagreed. "It will place more importance on winning your division," he said. "Speaking from our experience in 2010 [when the Reds won the NL Central], it might have been better to play the Braves and not the Phillies." Under the current rule, the Phillies couldn't play the Wild Card-winning Braves in the first round because they are in the same division. "That is now eliminated in this system," Bray said. "You really want to win your division, because you don't want to have to play the one-game playoff. No one wants one game and go home if you lose. Everyone loves a one-game playoff, because it feels like the seventh game of a World Series." The new agreement eliminates the rankings of Type A and Type B free agents, who will be subject to compensation if their former club offers, and the player rejects, a guaranteed one-year contract with a salary equal to the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players from the prior season. From now on, only players that were with the same club an entire season are subject for compensation. A club that signs a player subject to compensation will forfeit its first-round Draft pick, unless it selects in the top 10, which means it will forfeit its second-highest selection. "It's a positive change from the old system, especially for middle relievers, setup men and middle infielders," said Bray, himself a middle reliever for Cincinnati. "You can be a Type A [free agent], but not a lot of clubs were willing to both pay the money and give up a first-round pick. Grant Balfour is an example. He pitched great and got stuck as a Type A. It asks a lot for a team to sign you and lose the pick for you. It doesn't change for a team that wants to sign a Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, because you're probably not worried about losing the first-round pick anyway." The amateur Draft underwent several alterations, most notably in that it now includes a taxation system for clubs that exceed a calculated signing bonus pool. All players can only be signed to Minor League contracts from now on. In last year's Draft, the Reds signed catcher Yasmani Grandal only because he was offered a Major League contract and a spot on the 40-man roster. Smaller market clubs, like the Pirates, had benefited from a system where they awarded high bonuses to picks in later rounds to accumulate better talent. The tax system, which could result in the loss of money and first-round Draft picks in future Drafts, closes that loophole. Teams will also be taxed for exceeding signing-bonus pools for international free agents. "It is a very interesting topic as the smaller clubs were looking for Draft reform. But smaller clubs were also spending the most money and getting the most talent," Bray said. "I wonder if more guys will go to college, or return to school, if they're not a first-round pick, because bonuses will be down in the later rounds." In other developments, the minimum salaries will increase from its current $411,000 up to $500,000 by 2014. Instant replay will be expanded to include fair or foul calls and trapped-ball plays. MLB will also begin blood testing for human growth hormone, or HGH, during the offseason and Spring Training. It's possible that in-season testing could be included after further study, something that concerned Bray. "I'm for HGH testing," he said. "At the same time, we have to make sure the science is right. Urine testing for steroids is a perfected science in the scientific community. That consensus isn't there yet for HGH tests. I have nothing to hide and my teammates have nothing to hide. I just question the collective methods. No one wants to get stuck with a needle right before they have to play a game."