After a long three-month lockout, the Major League Baseball (MLB) owners and the Major League Players Association (MLBPA) finally settled on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The new five-year deal came to fruition a week and a half after the February 28th deadline had not been met. Despite the threat of canceled games looming at the end of February, the union stood their ground and refused offers that did not meet enough of their demands. Many players, although obviously frustrated by the delay in the season, voiced the importance of a fair deal for the future of baseball. Mike Trout said in a tweet, “I want to play, I love our game, but I know we need to get this CBA right. We owe it to the next generation.”
The new CBA will implement new changes starting this season. The MLB playoff format will now feature 12 out of 30 teams (instead of the previous 10), making it easier to advance to the postseason. This is moving the league in the direction of the NHL and NBA, which have 16 teams that make it past the regular season. The Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold (also called a “luxury tax”) – the MLB’s form of a salary cap which limits how much a team can spend on their roster – was raised to $230 million and will grow to $244 million over the next five years. While a team’s payroll can exceed the limit, they will be taxed at the end of the season for every dollar that they are over the predetermined payroll. Other changes include a designated hitter, a new draft lottery, and a pre-arbitration bonus pool. The new CBA gives younger players more of an ability to make what they are worth through various mechanisms and bonuses. In addition, players will see increases in the minimum salary, starting out at $700,000 its first year (currently 570,500). This increase is more than the total increase in baseline salary over the last decade.
The MLBPA ratified the deal with a 26-12 vote, and the owners were unanimous 30-0. With the new deal in place, the MLB is set to begin a 162-game season starting April 7th. Free agency began as soon as the deal was signed, and many familiar former Israeli team members signed new contracts. Two-time World Series champion Joc Pederson signed with the San Francisco Giants, and Ty Kelly and Ryan Lavarnway both signed minor league deals.
Joc Pederson, an MLB veteran, has won the World Series twice, back-to-back the last two seasons, each time with a different team. He has spent most of his career thus far in Los Angeles, where he won his first championship in 2020. Last year, in 2021, he was traded mid-season from the Chicago Cubs to the Atlanta Braves, and with them won his second World Series. Although a crucial component to the Braves success last season, Pederson’s stats were slightly low, posting a season .238/.310/.422 batting average, and scoring a combined 18 home runs in 137 games with the Cubs and the Braves. Last week, Pederson closed a one-year deal with the San Francisco Giants for $6 million. He signed his new deal with Manager and fellow Jew, Gabe Kapler, who won National League Manager of the Year last year with the Giants.
The outfielder was born to a Jewish mother and played for Team Israel in 2013 during the World Baseball Classic. Being an American citizen, Pederson had to prove his Jewish lineage to obtain his eligibility to play for Israel. Although he was the youngest player on the team that year, he hit .308 and had three steals. Pederson has since been inducted into both the Northern and Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Ty Kelly has bounced around both major and minor league teams for over a decade. The seasoned baseball player has had stints with the minor league affiliate teams for the Orioles, Mariners, Cardinals, and Blue Jays. He played 39 games with the New York Mets, and at the start of the 2017 season, Kelly played 69 games wearing a Phillies jersey. He had another brief stint with the Mets before signing with the Los Angeles Angels. Then, in 2019, Kelly announced his retirement from the MLB. In 2021, he came out of retirement and went to the Mariners organization.
Over the years, Kelly has had a long and chaotic career in professional baseball. During the nine seasons he played in the minors, he has posted a .267/.367/.380 hitting average. Most recently, the former Team Israel player signed with the minor league affiliate team for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Although he missed playing in the qualifying round in 2017 due to his duties with the Mets, Kelly participated in the 2017 World Baseball Classic for Team Israel that March. He helped Israel pull a major upset against South Korea, and returned home wearing an Israel band on his wrist for the remainder of the season. Later that season, when the Mets had a Jewish heritage day, they played the Israeli National Anthem and Kelly recounted that during the anthem’s rendition he had tears in his eyes. In 2019, Kelly obtained his Israeli citizenship and played for Team Israel at the 2019 European Baseball Championships that were held in Germany. He also played at the 2020 Olympic qualification tournament, and was also on the roster for Team Israel at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
The last former Team Israel member to sign a new contract is catcher Ryan Lavarnway who just signed a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers. This is his second time signing with them, as he previously played for the Tiger’s affiliate back in 2014. Throughout his career Lavarnway has played for eight teams. Together with Kelly, Lavarnway was a starter for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He said that winning that upset game, “changed how proud I am about being Jewish.”
When he was in high school, Lavarnway said that he “felt spiritually attracted and I began to attend synagogue.” Later in life he married a Jewish woman named Jamie Neistat and together they live a “Jewish lifestyle.” Lavarnway’s affiliation with Israel extends beyond himself, as he has family that has served in the IDF. With opening day around the corner, may all of the Jewish baseball players, especially ones beginning new chapters with new teams, have great seasons!