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LEADOFF: What baseball’s new labor deal means for Braves, others

Good morning. This is LEADOFF, the early buzz in Atlanta sports.

Major League Baseball’s owners and players reached tentative agreement Wednesday night on a new collective bargaining agreement, no small feat for a sport with an ugly history of eight work stoppages from 1972 until 1995.

For most fans, the main thing the new agreement means is that baseball won’t have a strike or lockout for at least five more years, through the 2021 season.

The agreement won’t bring radical changes, a reflection of the sport’s financial health for both players and owners. But it will bring some noteworthy changes. Here are a half-dozen of them, according to late-night and overnight reports from the Associated Press and others:

1. The (silly) practice of awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star game will finally end, according to the AP. Instead, that advantage will belong to the pennant winner with the better regular-season record.

2. There will be a hard cap starting at around $5 million for how much a team can spend annually on the international amateur prospects market. (The Braves, now big players in this market, will take note.)

3. The luxury-tax threshold — the payroll level that teams are fined for exceeding — will increase from $189 mllion last season to a range of $195 million-$210 million over the course of the new deal. (The Braves are so far removed from the threshold, old or new, that this change is a moot point locally.)

4. Beginning next off-season, teams won’t be subject to losing first-round draft picks for signing free agents who declined qualifying offers from their previous clubs. Instead, teams signing such players will lose a second- or third-round pick. (This could make such players more attractive to the Braves in the future.)

5. Teams will be able to put players on the disabled list for a minimum of 10 days, down from 15, AP reported.

6. Beginning in 2018, the 162-game regular-season schedules will start four days earlier, allowing teams more off-days.

* * *

This should encourage Braves fans about the future: Baseball America yesterday named the Rome Braves its Minor League Team of the Year.

The article by J.J. Cooper noted the Rome rotation featured four former first-round draft picks – Kolby Allard, Max Fried, Mike Soroka and Touki Toussaint – and “seventh-round steal” Patrick Weigel, who was promoted to Mississippi late in the season.

Rome had promising position players as well in third baseman Austin Riley and outfielder Ronald Acuna, the article pointed out.

The team won the low Class A South Atlantic League championship with what was described as the youngest roster in full-season minor-league ball this year.

Baseball America has named a Minor League Team of the Year – one standout team from all the leagues at all levels — annually since 1993. But this is the first time a Braves farm team has won the honor.

* * *

Some might argue that the College Football Playoff has diminished the magnitude of conference championship games. But not Jim McElwain, who has experienced the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome as a former Alabama offensive coordinator and the current Florida head coach.

“I think the thing that makes this game so unique is the stadium,” McElwain said on a media conference call. “It’s not corporate tickets. It’s two fan bases that split the stadium in half. For both of us, it’s easy travel to get there.

“The excitement and the juice — what’s in that stadium — it’s hard to explain. In some ways, (it’s) even more so than a national title game because of the fans that are able to get there. It just means a lot.”

ICYMI: Alabama vs. Florida is the appropriate matchup for final SEC title game in Georgia Dome.

* * *

The five most watched college football games on TV across the nation this season:

1. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 26 on ABC, 16,841,000 viewers

2. Notre Dame at Texas, Sept. 4 on ABC, 10,945,000 viewers

3. Alabama at LSU, Nov. 5 on CBS, 10,385,000 viewers

4. Louisville at Clemson, Oct. 1 on ABC, 9,294,000 viewers

5. Ohio State at Wisconsin, Oct. 15 on ABC, 8,964,000 viewers

LEADOFF appears Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.

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