As the lockout continues, Major League Baseball has ceased drug testing for players who are part of the MLB Players Association, reports Ronald Blum of the Associated Press. It’s an expected development, as Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote last November that the union did not believe the league could continue drug testing throughout a work stoppage.
The MLB – MLBPA Joint Drug Agreement covers players on 40-man rosters, major league free agents, and certain professional international free agents. The JDA contained an expiration provision for December 1, 2021 at 11:59 pm EST, overlapping with the expiration of the most recent collective bargaining agreement. However, as labor lawyer Eugene Freedman points out (on Twitter), the implementation of the lockout is the direct force behind the current testing stoppage. In the absence of a work stoppage, the previous CBA remains the governing document until a new agreement is reached. Had MLB not instituted a lockout, the offseason would have proceeded under the terms of the previous CBA and its ancillary agreements — the JDA among them — despite the expiration provisions contained therein.
The JDA encompasses testing both for drugs of abuse (including cocaine and opiates) and performance-enhancing substances. As the lockout continues, testing will not be in place for substances of either form. While the JDA was in effect, it was customary for drug testing to continue over the offseason. Blum relays statistics from program administrator Thomas Martin, noting that nearly 48,000 cumulative tests were conducted between 2017-21. Of those, more than 7,300 were administered during the offseason. (It is not clear what percentage of those were for drugs of abuse versus for performance-enhancing substances).
What effect, if any, the cessation of offseason drug testing will have remains to be seen. Given that MLB instituted the lockout in the early morning of December 2, it stands to reason testing has already been suspended for over two months. Whenever a new CBA is agreed upon, a drug testing provision — whether a new system or simply a reimplementation of the previous JDA — will no doubt be included. Potential modifications to the JDA are reportedly among the non-core economics issues the parties have discussed.
Whatever form the drug testing program eventually takes, it doesn’t seem a resolution is in the near future. There’s been little progress in negotiations thus far, and it remains to be seen when MLB will make its next move. A delayed start to Spring Training seems an inevitability, and there’ll need to be rapid progress over the next three weeks if the regular season is to start on March 31, as currently scheduled.