Baseball players and owners signed an agreement for a new labour 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 collective bargaining agreement was signed Tuesday. It 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.

'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.' — MLB union leader Michael Weiner on HGH testing

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

Random testing for HGH will take place during spring training and the off-season, 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," union leader Michael 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."

Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said: "MLB and the players union should be applauded for taking the strong step to implement the HGH test at the major league level to protect clean athletes. This is great progress in MLB's effort to protect the integrity of baseball at every level."

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."   

In addition, the number of off-season urine tests will increase gradually from 125 currently to 250 before the 2015 season.

21 years of labour peace

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

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

"Very excited for the new CBA announcement," added Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford of Port Dover, Ont., in a post to his Twitter account. "The players worked hard to continue labour peace."

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

It also adds unprecedented restraints on signing bonuses for amateur players coming to the major leagues from high school, college and overseas, perhaps hurting MLB as it competes with the NFL and NBA for multisport talent.

"If I've got a great athlete, why am I going to go to baseball? I'm going to focus on the other sports," said agent Scott Boras, who has negotiated baseball's highest signing bonuses.

Following eight work stoppages from 1972-95, baseball reached its third consecutive agreement without an interruption of play. The agreement was signed three weeks before the current deal was to expire Dec. 11, the second straight time the sides reached a deal early.

Baseball seems to have learned the lessons of the 1994-95 strike, which wiped out the World Series for the first time in nine decades.

"I think our history is more important than what's happening in other sports," said Weiner. "It took a while for the owners to appreciate that the union is not only here to stay, but that the union and its members can contribute positively to a discussion about the game — about its economics, about the nature of the competition, about how it's marketed in every way."

Other details of the new deal:

  • 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 post-season. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 advance.
  • MLB executive vice-president Rob Manfred said a decision on whether the expanded playoffs would start next year likely will be made by the January owners' meeting.
  • 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.
  • The Houston Astros will 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.
  •  In a change, teams will be allowed to have 26 active players for day-night doubleheaders, provided they are scheduled with a day's notice in order to give clubs time to bring up someone from the minor leagues.
  • Requiring players to play in the all-star game unless injured or excused; expanding instant replay to include decisions on foul lines and traps, subject to an agreement with umpires.'
  • Banning smokeless tobacco products during televised interviews by players, managers and coaches; requiring players arrested for DWI to undergo mandatory evaluation; and wearing improved batting helmets manufactured by Rawlings by 2013.
  • On the economics, the threshold for the luxury tax on payrolls will be left at $178 million 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.
  • Both teams from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago will be ineligible to receive revenue sharing by 2016 along with Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas, Toronto and Washington, a person familiar with the agreement said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the teams were not announced. The proceeds will be given back to the teams paying in revenue-sharing, as long as they stay under the luxury-tax payroll threshold. A provision says Oakland will remain eligible as long as its ballpark situation remains unresolved.
  • 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 also will 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 per cent tax on the amount 0-5 per cent over a specified threshold for each team next year, based on its selection spot.
  • For teams going 5-10 per cent over, the tax will rise to 100 per cent, 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.
  • Manfred said the amateur draft range will be up to $11.5 million next year. 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.