Officials pass new Winter League agreement

Officials pass new Winter League agreement

MARGARITA ISLAND, Venezuela -- Active Winter League players wanting to leave Latin America to participate in baseball development programs or fan festivals for their MLB clubs in the United States will have to get permission from their Winter League teams, according to the terms of the new Winter League Agreement.

On Thursday, Lou Melendez, MLB's vice president of international baseball operations, Caribbean Confederation president Juan Francisco Puello and baseball executives from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico and Puerto Rico made the agreement official in a rooftop press conference at The Lidotel Hotel.

The "extreme fatigue" clause, which protects overworked players from participating in a full Winter League season, was instituted for catchers for the first time in the new agreement. The threshold for Major League catchers is 600 innings and 700 innings for catchers in Class A to Triple-A.

"We have the same goals and we have the same concerns and we hope this can solve some of the problems," Melendez said. "Their biggest concern is having a guy all year and then come the playoffs or finals, a big league club takes him home because they felt he has played enough. We are aware of it and we also have to keep our teams' interests in mind."

The negotiations for the agreement were based upon input from all 30 Major League clubs. The agreement, which expires in 2013, was approved by the team owners last month in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"We are going step by step in the process and making progress," Puello said. "This is not a revolution, it is an evolution. We just want everyone to understand what is happening in the leagues and grow our partnership."

In an effort to keep injuries to players in the Winter Leagues from going unreported, the new agreement gives MLB the power to force a Winter League club to lose a player for the remainder of the season and the next Winter League season if a player is injured and the club doesn't inform Major League Baseball. Maximum liability of a Winter League club will be doubled to $15,000 in the event an MLB club requires treatment in the United States. An MLB-approved electronic medical recordkeeping system will also be created as part of the new plan.

Overall, the thresholds for "extreme fatigue" were lowered to protect overworked players. The threshold for Major League pitchers is now 160 innings, down from 170 innings in the past. The threshold was also lowered five innings to 160 innings for Triple-A pitchers, 10 innings to 155 innings for Double-A pitchers and 35 innings to 130 innings for Class A pitchers. Major League hitters are allowed a maximum of 503 plate appearances after 500 at-bats in the last agreement, while Minor League hitters from Class A to Triple-A are allowed 550 plate appearances. The group was allowed 500 at-bats in the last agreement.

Regarding leave of absence for minicamps, fan festivals or Rookie Development Programs, the new agreement states that Winter League clubs will commit to giving due consideration to giving players permission to be absent from Winter League play at the request of a Major League club as long as MLB notifies the Winter League club of the planned absence before Dec. 24.

"These Major League players we are talking about are our players, they are from our countries and they are protected with us," said Venezuela Professional Baseball League president Jose Grasso Vecchio. "Where do you think the kids are the safest, on the field or out at a disco? The players are going to be in Venezuela, Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico anyway, so why should they not play? This is a good step in the right direction."

Also in the Winter League Agreement:

• Sanctions will be strengthened for using a player without permission to include loss of that player for an additional three seasons, in addition to losing the right to import players for the next season.

• All player-related areas are to be free of trip hazards. Additionally, padded outfield walls will be required, batter's eye and batting cages will be upgraded and Winter League clubs will be required to develop year-round maintenance plans.

• Winter League clubs are asked to make a good-faith effort to implement MLB-recommended ballpark security procedures.

• The Caribbean Confederation will be required to make at least one scout seat per Major League club available for each Caribbean Series.

• Native players include players whose grandparents were born in the country or commonwealth.

"The Winter League Agreement is always going to be an issue for everybody," said Sadi Antonmattei, president of Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League. "As long as we can make it better for both parties and both parties get more input, that is good. Enforcement of the agreement and letting executives know that a Winter League Agreement exists is the key."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.