Major League Baseball has officially instituted a lockout. The 2016-21 collective bargaining agreement between MLB owners and the players’ union expired at 10:59pm central time tonight. It has long been clear that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association would not have a new deal signed before the current contract ran its course. With no agreement reached, the league’s owners unanimously voted to institute a lockout, according to a report from Jon Heyman of the MLB Network (Twitter link).
Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the lockout as part of a pre-prepared letter to fans (full text available here), Manfred wrote in part:
“Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season. We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive. It’s simply not a viable option. From the beginning, the MLBPA has been unwilling to move from their starting position, compromise, or collaborate on solutions.”
Manfred went on to state that the MLBPA “came to the bargaining table with a strategy of confrontation over compromise” and “never wavered from collectively the most extreme set of proposals in their history, including significant cuts to the revenue-sharing system, a weakening of the competitive balance tax, and shortening the period of time that players play for their teams. All of these changes would make our game less competitive, not more.”
The MLB Players Association released a statement of its own (on Twitter). It reads in part:
“Major League Baseball has announced a lockout of Players, shutting down our industry. This shutdown is a dramatic measure, regardless of the timing. It is not required by law or for any other reason. It was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculate to pressure Players into relinquishing rights and benefits, and abandoning good faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not just Players, but the game and industry as a whole. … We remain determined to return to the field under the terms of a negotiated collective bargaining agreement that is fair to all parties, and provides fans with the best version of the game we all love.”
As the MLBPA suggested, the league was not under a mandate to lock the players out. Even in the absence of a CBA, the offseason could have proceeded. As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explored a few months ago, the sides continued to conduct offseason business during the last winters (1993-94 and 94-95) that proceeded without a CBA in place.
There’s been little expectation MLB wouldn’t institute a lockout once this CBA expired, however. Locking out in the absence of an agreement has become the typical practice in other professional sports leagues, as management hasn’t wanted to afford players the choice whether to go on strike at a later date. The players eventually went on strike during the 1994 season, for example, spurred on by ownership’s imposition of a salary cap. The sides didn’t reach a new agreement that year, and that season’s World Series was ultimately cancelled.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred implied the league would take this course of action a few weeks ago. Pointing to the ’94 strike and other sports leagues as justification, Manfred indicated a lockout would be on the table if no agreement were hammered out by December 1. “I don’t think ’94 worked out too great for anybody,” the commissioner told reporters earlier this month. “I think when you look at other sports, the pattern has become to control the timing of the labor dispute and try to minimize the prospect of actual disruption of the season. That’s what it’s about: It’s avoiding doing damage to the season.”
With the lockout in place, teams will be prohibited from making any major league transactions until a new CBA is agreed upon. We’ve seen a flurry of activity — particularly via free agency — in the days leading up to the CBA expiration in response, as many clubs and players have wanted to pin down some certainty before a potential work stoppage.
A transactions freeze will be the most visible semblance of the lockout for fans, at least until the potential for game cancellations if no deal is agreed upon within a couple months. A ban on transactions is certainly not the only effect, however. Jeff Passan of ESPN explored some intricacies of the situation earlier this week in a piece that’s well worth a full read. A few of the less visible effects: injured players will not be allowed to communicate with team training staffs, players are no longer allowed to use team-run mental health services, and some foreign-born players may run into visa issues. Don’t expect press conferences for newly signed players or interviews with GMs, either.
The lockout is unfamiliar territory for a generation of baseball fans; this is the first work stoppage in this website’s 16-year history. It’ll mark the first official work stoppage since 1994, snapping a run of nearly three decades of labor peace. The parties had discussions each day this week, but it doesn’t seem they made much progress. Evan Drellich of the Athletic reported this afternoon that the league refused to make a counter-offer on the service time structure and luxury tax thresholds unless the MLBPA dropped its efforts to push earlier free agency eligibility for players, a demand the union reportedly refused.
The league did give some ground on the competitive balance tax, with Drellich reporting MLB proposed a gradual increase of the lowest tax threshold to an endpoint of $220MM. However, that remains a fair bit shy of the MLBPA’s $240MM goal, and it’s not clear if the league’s proposed increase also involved a corresponding uptick in penalties paid for exceeding those markers.
There’s certainly plenty to be hammered out beyond the luxury tax. The service time system, arbitration and fundamental competitive structure of the league (including the number of playoff teams) will all at least be discussed over the coming weeks. That’s saying nothing of potential on-field rules changes like the extra-inning runner and the universal designated hitter. With so much yet to be determined, it’s generally not expected an agreement will be reached in short order. The 2022 spring training schedule could potentially dictate when the lockout ends, with owners likely reluctant to forgo exhibition game revenue.
The Winter Meetings, originally scheduled for December 6 through 9 in Orlando, have been cancelled, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN (Twitter link). The commissioner is scheduled to conduct a press conference tomorrow morning.