For the second time in three seasons, we’re faced with the possibility that Major League Baseball will fall shy of a full 162-game schedule. Unlike in 2020, when the truncated season was an inevitability due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the potential for missing games in 2022 is entirely of MLB and the MLBPA’s doing. The expiration of the 2016-21 collective bargaining agreement wasn’t some secret, and a second contentious set of negotiations between the league and union has been widely expected for quite some time — particularly since return-to-play talks went about as poorly as one could possibly imagine in 2020.
While there was some talk of proactive negotiations at times, discussions were infrequent, at best. The MLBPA made a core economics proposal back in May. The league countered in August, suggesting — among other major changes — that free agency be linked directly to a player’s age (29.5 years, in MLB’s proposal). The MLBPA, looking to young stars like Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and many others who’ll reach free agency well before 29, considered age-based a non-starter. (The league’s proposal also contained a $100MM salary floor — but that came with a major reduction in the luxury-tax threshold, from the prior $210MM down to $180MM.)
A second iteration of the union’s economic plan was put forth on Nov. 5, with key points including a raised minimum salary, earlier arbitration, changes to the draft order (with an eye on eliminating tanking), changes the league’s revenue-sharing structure and earlier free agency for certain players. The league was nonplused.
The MLBPA’s second proposal was met with a counter the following week, wherein the league reportedly kept the age-based free agency requirement and also sought to replace the arbitration system entirely — instead awarding pre-free agent salaries according to a WAR-based algorithm. That came with its own fairly obvious set of issues, as explored here at the time of the offer.
As the CBA’s Dec. 1 expiration ticked nearer, it became clear a deal would not be reached. MLB and the MLBPA agreed to move the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players (which had been set for Dec. 2) up to Nov. 30. A flurry of free-agent and (to a lesser extent) trade activity ensued in the week leading up to the CBA’s expiration, as a handful of motivated teams sought to get some of their offseason business done before the lockout.
Commissioner Rob Manfred announced in a letter to fans on Dec. 2 that the league had locked out the players. Manfred claimed to have been “forced” into a lockout, which he described as a “mechanism to protect the 2022 season” — one that would “jumpstart” negotiations with the MLBPA. The two sides did not return to the table until mid-January, just over six weeks later.
Major League Baseball has made one formal proposal since implementing the lockout. The MLBPA has made two and has now been awaiting a counter to that second offer for ten days. In the interim, MLB made a request for federal mediation; the MLBPA swiftly rejected, with players banding together to voice a desire for daily negotiations with MLB rather than turning things over to a third party. Daily negotiations (obviously) have not occurred.
Players are still seeking increased minimum salaries, a bonus pool to reward pre-arbitration players based on performance, an increased luxury-tax threshold and measures to eliminate tanking, among other items. An expanded playoff format and the associated spike in television/streaming/gate revenues is among the league’s top priorities, but owners are also pushing back heavily on the extent to which minimum salary should increase and to which pre-arbitration players should be compensated.
Manfred confirmed yesterday that the league will submit a new proposal Saturday. He also declined to announce a delay to the start of Spring Training (although that feels like an inevitability), called missing regular season games “a disastrous outcome for the industry,” and maintained optimism that the season will begin on March 31, as scheduled.
All of that sounds nice, but it’s increasingly difficult to believe the two parties will make swift progress, given the acrimonious nature of talks to date. It’s also worth noting that back in October, Manfred made similar comments about agreeing to a new CBA before Dec. 1, calling an agreement the league’s “number one priority” and expressing optimism a deal would be reached in time.
That rundown of where things stand out of the way, let’s open this up for (further) debate among readers with a poll…link to poll for Trade Rumors iOS/Android app users)