The Collective Bargaining Agreement – the contract that governs the relationship between MLB’s owners and its players union, and thus governs the sport – has expired. But unlike the fun and wild world of free agency into which a player enters when his contract expires, there’s no fun to be had here. Only a lockout. Pencils down, everyone.
Just before the expiration of the CBA, the owners voted unanimously to lock out the players (which will reportedly begin sometime tomorrow) after negotiations the past few months failed to net the sides an agreeable deal (though it’s debatable just how urgently MLB was viewing the need to get a deal done right now). In theory, the lockout is designed to spur more serious negotiations, but I’m not so sure that’s going to happen any time soon.
Officially, it’ll be a work stoppage, the sport’s first in over 25 years. No one really knows how long it’ll last, but it’s reasonable to expect that it’ll require some kind of deadline to force the sides to bridge the considerable gaps in their respective positions. The next real deadline would be an interruption of activities in Spring Training. That probably means no serious movement in negotiations through December, and well into January.
We’ll have much more on this tomorrow, including the logistics, timelines, and all that stuff. The short version for now is to know that all things Major League Baseball will be shut down as soon as the lockout officially begins (which reportedly now this exact moment). That means no big league transactions (or minor league deals with players in the union). No communications between teams and players. No use of team facilities. It is what it sounds like it is: the owners are locking out the players until a deal is done.
At least the Cubs got one really good one in under the wire, a little something for us to hold onto while the lockout continues.
UPDATE: It is here.
Major League Baseball has officially implemented a lockout, sources tell ESPN. The ninth work stoppage in the sport’s history has begun.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 2, 2021
UPDATE II: The Players have released a statement.
Statement from the Major League Baseball Players Association: pic.twitter.com/34uIGf762W
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) December 2, 2021
UPDATE III: And here’s Commissioner Rob Manfred’s (much longer and a little more antagonistic) statement:
To our Fans:
I first want to thank you for your continued support of the great game of baseball. This past season, we were reminded of how the national pastime can bring us together and restore our hope despite the difficult challenges of a global pandemic. As we began to emerge from one of the darkest periods in our history, our ballparks were filled with fans; the games were filled with excitement; and millions of families felt the joy of watching baseball together.
That is why I am so disappointed about the situation in which our game finds itself today. Despite the league’s best efforts to make a deal with the Players Association, we were unable to extend our 26 year-long history of labor peace and come to an agreement with the MLBPA before the current CBA expired. Therefore, we have been forced to commence a lockout of Major League players, effective at 12:01am ET on December 2.
I want to explain to you how we got here and why we have to take this action today. 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.
When we began negotiations over a new agreement, the Players Association already had a contract that they wouldn’t trade for any other in sports. Baseball’s players have no salary cap and are not subjected to a maximum length or dollar amount on contracts. In fact, only MLB has guaranteed contracts that run 10 or more years, and in excess of $300 million. We have not proposed anything that would change these fundamentals. While we have heard repeatedly that free agency is “broken” – in the month of November $1.7 billion was committed to free agents, smashing the prior record by nearly 4x. By the end of the offseason, Clubs will have committed more money to players than in any offseason in MLB history.
We worked hard to find compromise while making the system even better for players, by addressing concerns raised by the Players Association. We offered to establish a minimum payroll for all clubs to meet for the first time in baseball history; to allow the majority of players to reach free agency earlier through an age-based system that would eliminate any claims of service time manipulation; and to increase compensation for all young players, including increases in the minimum salary. When negotiations lacked momentum, we tried to create some by offering to accept the universal Designated Hitter, to create a new draft system using a lottery similar to other leagues, and to increase the Competitive Balance Tax threshold that affects only a small number of teams.
We have had challenges before with respect to making labor agreements and have overcome those challenges every single time during my tenure. Regrettably, it appears the Players Association came to the bargaining table with a strategy of confrontation over compromise. They 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.
To be clear: this hard but important step does not necessarily mean games will be cancelled. In fact, we are taking this step now because it accelerates the urgency for an agreement with as much runway as possible to avoid doing damage to the 2022 season. Delaying this process further would only put Spring Training, Opening Day, and the rest of the season further at risk – and we cannot allow an expired agreement to again cause an in-season strike and a missed World Series, like we experienced in 1994. We all owe you, our fans, better than that.
Today is a difficult day for baseball, but as I have said all year, there is a path to a fair agreement, and we will find it. I do not doubt the League and the Players share a fundamental appreciation for this game and a commitment to its fans. I remain optimistic that both sides will seize the opportunity to work together to grow, protect, and strengthen the game we love. MLB is ready to work around the clock to meet that goal. I urge the Players Association to join us at the table.