HGH testing in new labor pact gives baseball added credibility

The latest agreement between the owners and players, announced Tuesday, means baseball will have 21 consecutive seasons of labor peace, and that makes baseball look good compared to the NBA and, to a certain extent, the NFL.

The key to this year’s agreement was the workable personalities of Rob Manfred, the owners’ top negotiator, and Michael Weiner, who heads the players’ union. The two worked together much better than the Bud Selig-Donald Fehr battles that were part eight work stoppages from 1972 through the strike year of 1994.

Best news in the deal: As promised by both sides, the deal calls for blood testing to detect the use of HGH. That gives baseball even more credibility in that department.

* Astros go west: Fans in Houston aren’t happy about switching leagues in 2013, but my guess is that they’ll get over it quickly. The biggest problem is there will be more TV road games starting at 9 p.m. in Houston. The good news is that after 50 years, the Astros finally have a rival in the Texas Rangers. The Astros are the first team to switch leagues since the Brewers went from the American League to the National League in 1998. “It’s a lot easier to move from the NL to the AL than the other way around,’’ says Phil Garner, the Brewers’ manager in 1998.

* Interleague every day: Players, managers and coaches love that there will be five teams in each division, but there is no news on how the schedule is going to work. However, with the anticipation of an interleague game each day, here’s a question: Will an interleague series determine a playoff spot on the final weekend of the season, and is that fair?

* Getting wilder: It is interesting that there will be two wild card teams playing in a one-game playoff to make the division series, possibly as early as 2012. The sudden-death format is a good concept, but if they try to add games to that new first round, wouldn’t division champs complain? No division champ wants to finish the season and then wait four or five days to begin the postseason.

* Nationals’ options: Lefty Mark Buehrle is the perfect free agent pitching fit for the Nationals, assuming the Nationals sold him at their meeting in St. Louis on the idea that they will be contenders in two years, if not next season. The Nats have two other free-agent alternatives, but Buehrle is cheaper than lefty C.J. Wilson and more durable than right-hander Roy Oswalt, who has back issues.

* New closer: The Texas Rangers signed closer Joe Nathan, 37, and that will allow closer Neftali Feliz to move to the rotation. Feliz was a blue-clip rotation prospect before the Rangers moved him to the bullpen out of necessity two years ago. Feliz isn’t the only bullpen-to-the-rotation story for next season. The Chicago White Sox are moving Chris Sale to the rotation and the Cincinnati Reds will do the same with lefty Aroldis Chapman. Also, the Orioles are thinking about moving reliever Jim Johnson to their rotation in 2012.

* Agree/disagree: I agree with Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters on Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun as the NL MVP, even though Los Angeles’ Matt Kemp came close to winning the Triple Crown. However, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, the AL batting champ, was more valuable to the Tigers than Verlander.