Early Lockout Chatter in MLB, and How It Could Impact Team and Player Decisions to Sign Early

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Early Lockout Chatter in MLB, and How It Could Impact Team and Player Decisions to Sign Early

Chicago Cubs

We’re still a little early in the cycle to get TOO deep on offseason strategy stuff as it relates to the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement expiration on December 1, but a line of thought/commentary from Joel Sherman’s sources left me with at least one thing I wanted to tee up for you to have in the back of your mind in the weeks ahead.

We are already expecting very little movement in free agency in advance of the CBA expiration – teams and players, generally, are unlikely to want to commit to huge deals before they know what the financial structure of the game is going to look like for the next five years. That, in turn, trickles down to other players, which spiders out into other teams, and so on and so forth. Before you know it, there’s very little activity until the CBA is done.

But any time there’s a “consensus” perspective around the game, you always wonder whether there could be a team or two, or a player or two, that wants to buck that consensus to try to get a competitive edge. Take a big risk now for a big reward later. That kind of thing. Do it right in November, and you could look like a genius come next March.

To that end, a fair question: what if a LOT of teams are thinking this way? What if a lot of teams have a lot of open books right now after cutting costs and then seeing fans return to games? Might we just see a LOT of teams jumping early to sign players before December 1?

Well, maybe, and then quickly followed by a maybe not.

Joel Sherman, after noting the huge number of teams that could and should spend aggressively this offseason, drops a bit of an eye-opening counter to the idea that there will be teams that jump to make early signings. If I’m reading this correctly, the fear is that teams might not jump because they might instead all stick together to force a lockout first:

“Will teams and agents try to jump a potential Dec. 1 lockout by aggressively trying to sign players in November? One veteran agent told me that because there is money to spend in the industry, we should anticipate the lockout, as ownership strategy is to condense the market to, say, a few weeks in March when a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.”

In other words, from the player side, there might be an expectation that a lot of teams WOULD want to jump – because there are so many teams that could and should spend big – and for that reason, it might not ultimately be all that much of a relative advantage to be the team that actually does jump. If 20 out of 30 teams are planning to be aggressive and spend big before December 1, then you are no longer zigging if you jump early, and you might actually be all the more likely to be shooting yourself in the foot.

So the agent is suggesting that he expects a lockout to happen because there will then be a critical mass of clubs that not only don’t want to spend until the CBA is done, but explicitly want to use the CBA expiration and ensuing lockout as a way to freeze all of free agency. Then, when things finally open up a couple weeks into a shut-down Spring Training, or whatever, they can together all use the crunched, mad scramble to all get good deals on players.

Yes, that does sound a lot like that certain ugly ‘C’ word. And if the owners actually did get together to try to use the CBA negotiations/lockout in this way, it would be a dirty thing to do. *ESPECIALLY* if there were some teams and some players that did want to jump ahead and sign before December 1.

So now we wind up in a spot where we’re watching the November market closely for another reason: not only for whether a very small handful of teams try to sign guys early, but whether there is an even more pronounced freeze than anyone was expecting. As a fan, I sure as heck hope this doesn’t happen, because I don’t really want to be sitting around for all of November, December, January, and February knowing that no team is going to make any moves. Not only is that not fun, but it would get really ugly once again.

Of course, for all we know, this kind of thing gets floated now, in September, as a tacit threat to the players to get a new CBA done as quickly possible, maybe even before the current deal expires. “Sign on to a new deal now, otherwise the best case scenario is a condensed free agency where it’ll be hard to maximize the total dollars.”

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.