As the MLB lockout continues into 2022, little indication has been given that the current status quo is set to expire any time soon. This morning’s news, that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have yet to schedule their next bargaining session, all but affirms that.
Despite the ongoing transaction freeze and tight-lipped nature of CBA talks, players haven’t avoided headlines altogether. Recently, a trio of All-Star MLBPA members— Zack Britton, Marcus Semien, and Lucas Giolito— spoke about the current state of the lockout. Today, another high profile MLBPA member joined the fray to discuss the seeming malaise surrounding CBA negotiations: Max Scherzer.
Speaking with Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times, the perennial Cy Young contender hit on a number of familiar points. First among them, Scherzer reiterated the union’s stated goal to increase competitive integrity in the game, that is, to increase incentive for all 30 teams to win games instead of opting for the well documented tank method. “We feel as players that too many teams have gone into a season without any intent to win during this past CBA. Even though that can be a strategy to win in future years, we’ve seen both small-market and large-market clubs embrace tanking, and that cannot be the optimal strategy for the owners.”
Concerns about service-time manipulation are something Scherzer and the union are also looking to address in the next CBA. The right-handed pitcher name-checks the Kris Bryant grievance as one example, though whispers of front offices leveraging the current system to maximize player control have been long presumed.
Beyond the belief that certain players are being held in the minors artificially long, Scherzer also posits that “middle-class free agents” are being slighted under the current system as well. The ability of teams to minimize a player’s early career earnings and open-market earnings doesn’t sit right with Scherzer, who believes this approach is in direct contrast to what an earlier union deal, dubbed “the grand bargain“, sought to accomplish. “The grand bargain is that you make less money early in your career so that you can make more money later in your career. Teams have shown that they’re not willing to pay for players’ past production for a whole slew of reasons. And if that’s the case, that’s the case. But if we’re going to look at players that way, then we need to then allocate more money to players earlier in their career.”
Scherzer further reiterates that the union is not interested in any system that ties player compensation directly to league revenues, citing that doing so would implement a cap system that’s at odds with the sport’s free market economics. Of course, players and fans have noticed that while a cap system may not currently exist, teams have increasingly behaved like the luxury tax threshold acts as one.
Treating the current luxury tax threshold as a hard cap naturally curtails player spending, even if a small handful of players sign record-setting contracts every offseason. As the beneficiary of one such contract, Scherzer pushes back on the notion that the current system works fine, because despite his compensation, a number of players will still be left to scramble for jobs with limited time and opportunity after the lockout.
Ultimately, Scherzer concludes that a number of player concerns need to be remedied in the next CBA for the game to continue with integrity. Because the current system affects every player adversely in one way or another, and the players are “galvanized” by this perception, he asserts that the union is as strong as it’s ever been. When asked if the current stare-down between league and union could lead to a delayed season, Scherzer was hopeful, but non-committal:
“It’s too hard to even speculate what the future looks like. You’re just in limbo right now. You’re training ready to be good to go for when spring training starts. If that doesn’t happen, then you make different decisions based on that. But until that happens, you have to have the mentality that we’re going to be playing on time. Any other kind of speculation is just hearsay.”