A deal reached between MLB and the players' association will allow major leaguers to participate in winter leagues this season, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports, citing anonymous sources with knowledge of the talks. The agreement was ratified by the Caribbean Confederation on Saturday and will permit players to report within a week.
The agreement will bar pitchers on the 40-man roster with a majority of their time spent at Double-A from participating in winter ball if they accumulated more than 140 innings, a decline from 155 innings in a previous agreement. The threshold has also been lowered for Double-A relievers, who will not be able to participate if they appeared in more than 45 games, a decrease from 55 appearances in previous years.
Restrictions were relaxed on major league position players, as those with up to 552 plate appearances will be allowed to participate, up from a previous limit of 502 PAs. Passan adds that the process of declaring "physical incapacity" for a player will now be more stringently regulated — teams were formerly able to do so by simply providing documentation. Other changes in the new deal include better equipment and fields, along with higher standards for clubhouses and bathrooms.
Sources told Yahoo that the negotiations grew tense as MLB sought to keep young pitchers from overworking their arms after long seasons and the union aimed to secure as much freedom for players as possible. At one point, the status of the negotiations reportedly caused some to worry that players on clubs' 40-man rosters would be prohibited from playing this year.
As Passan notes, the Venezuelan Winter League and Mexican Pacific League are scheduled to commence this week, while the Dominican Winter League starts Friday and the Puerto Rican League opens on Nov. 1.