Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you knew this was coming. Officially, Major League Baseball owners have locked out the players after the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. This is the first work stoppage of this kind in more than three decades, with the last coming in 1990
The last time the two sides were this at odds there was a players strike that ended the 1994 season. This lockout, however, shouldn’t come to that… hopefully.
Already, the players union and league are each playing the victim card online, blaming the other side. The union said the shutdown is “a dramatic measure” that was the owners’ choice.
Statement from the Major League Baseball Players Association: pic.twitter.com/k7W1yQnz5J
— MLB Players (@MLBPlayersInc) December 2, 2021
While the league had this to say, via the MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred.
Despite the league’s best efforts to make a deal with the Players Association, we were unable to extend our 26 year-long history of labor peace and come to an agreement with the MLBPA before the current CBA expired.
The league has labeled this is a “defensive lockout” which it deemed necessary to protect the interest (and money) of club owners.
What Exactly Does a Lockout Mean for the Offseason?
Jayson Stark of The Athletic covered the key points of what can and (mainly) can’t happen until a new CBA is agreed upon.
A lockout means:
A freeze on trades & signings of major league players
No communication between teams and players on their major league rosters
No winter meetings
It doesn’t mean games are canceled. The pressure won’t mount until mid-to-late January. It’ll get real then.
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 2, 2021
Player movement is now on hold. No trades. No signings. Zero activity. Players can’t even workout at team facilities. All in all, a much worse scenario than the drama fans experienced last year while the two sides navigated toward a safe return to playing the game after the pandemic shutdown.
While there was a flurry of player movement in recent days, more than 300 free agents still remain on the open market and now, technically, in limbo.
What’s at Play?
I’m hardly an expert in this subject because, well, labor negotiations just aren’t all that exciting. But the overview simplified is that MLB is fighting the narrative that its player reward system (mainly free agency) is broken. The league also wants to expand the playoff system to include more teams which, in turn, means more money in owners’ pockets via lucrative broadcasting rights.
What the players are arguing for is fair to most. They want more of the money that they help teams earn. MLB clubs draft players and essentially own them for the next six years of their life at minimum. And, for most of those years, the organizations don’t need to pay the player all that much, relatively speaking.
For all the hundreds of millions of dollars some players make in free agency, there are dozens more earning the major league minimum and having their service time toyed with in a way that benefits the billionaires that own the teams. To explain it better, Jesse Rogers of ESPN wrote it this way.
Players feel, with the emergence of analytics within front offices, that fewer and fewer second- and third-tier players are getting paid when they finally become free agents after six years of major league service time, which is often when a player turns 30 or very close to it. In general, players would like to be paid more at younger ages because that’s when they are in their prime. The system also favors keeping players in the minor leagues for several weeks extra to slow down their major league service time. Players hate that.
The two sides have each pitched different proposals to one another that have been so far apart from the other side that recent meetings have lasted fewer than 10 minutes.
Among other points of interest are, again, expanded playoffs, with the league fighting for 14 teams and the union allowing 12 teams instead of the current 10 team structure. The universal designated hitter is also at play as well as an effort to establish a salary minimum for teams in an effort to mitigate tanking. The competitive balance tax is also a sticking point, which the union wants bumped up to $245 million from $210 million. This would allow teams to spend more on second and third tier free agents along with premium talent.
Things to Know
Of the other oddities during this lockout, MLB entities and websites under the MLB.com umbrella will look quite different.
MLB has removed any content from its website that promotes current players, including any articles and all of their headshot photos pic.twitter.com/h1tUjeMtd6
— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) December 2, 2021
As it stands, MLB cannot use player images on its properties. So a roster page will be looking quite plain. Additionally, no content based on active players can be displayed.
While the 2022 season isn’t quite at risk just yet. But with each passing day and week, opening day gets a little more threatened. And certainly the start of spring training, which in all likelihood will end up shortened due to this mess.
Buckle up, baseball fans. It’s going to be a long and barren winter.