MLB Lockout Ends as League and Players Strike a Deal

MLB Lockout Ends as League and Players Strike a Deal
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred answers questions during an MLB owner's meeting. | Image from Getty Images

Major League Baseball (MLB) and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) reached a deal for a new five-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on Thursday afternoon in New York City. The agreement brings an end to a 99-day owner-imposed MLB lockout, the second-longest work stoppage in league history. 

With the end of the MLB lockout, teams can now complete trades and sign free agents. Players will report for spring training by Sunday, with exhibition games set to take place four or five days later. 

Opening day for the regular season will be April 7, one week later than what was originally scheduled. However, most notably for baseball fans, teams will still play the regular 162-game regular season. 

Twenty-six of the thirty-eight MLBPA union leaders voted in favor of the new CBA. All 30 team owners unanimously voted for its approval. 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred had been the primary recipient of criticism from fans due to the lockout. After the league announced the new agreement, he spoke to ESPN and expressed relief that the MLB lockout was ending. 

“I have a great job, but one of the negative parts of it is when you have a situation like this, where you’re depriving the fans of the game,” Manfred said. “I feel a great weight from that. When we learned that they ratified, I felt that weight came off my shoulders.”

Later in the day, Manfred apologized directly to the fans at a formal news conference. 

“I know that the last few months have been difficult,” Manfred said. “There was a lot of uncertainty, at a point in time when there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world. Sort of the way the process of collective bargaining works sometimes, but I do apologize for it.”

“One of the good things about collective bargaining is that it gives our players an opportunity to have input on what their workplace in the game is gonna look like going forward, and they took full opportunity to provide that input during these negotiations,” Manfred continued. “Our players are great, great athletes. I respect them, and I respect the input that we’ve received from them during this process. And we really did learn a lot.”

The main sticking point in the negotiations dealt with the economics of the game, but both sides finally reached a compromise. 

Under the new CBA, minimum salaries will begin at $700,000 this season, a substantial increase of 23% from the past year. The minimum salary will continue to rise to $780,000 for the final year of the CBA in 2026. 

The competitive balance threshold, which taxes teams who spend more than a pre-established limit, was also increased. The new limit that teams can spend without incurring an additional tax will be $230 million, a 10% increase from last year, and will reach $244 million by 2026.  

Other changes will be more noticeable to fans. 

The postseason field will increase to 12-teams, up from ten in prior years, and the top two division winners will be granted byes in the first round. 

A universal designated hitter will now be part of the game. Every team will play every other team each year, starting with the 2023 season, meaning there will be fewer series against division rivals. 

The new CBA also creates a six-team draft lottery, similar to the NBA, aiming to prevent teams from purposely losing games to secure high draft choices. 

Players’ jerseys will also now feature advertising through patches on jerseys and decals on helmets. 

Additionally, the CBA creates a path for the league to implement more changes in the future. Some of the changes may include a pitch clock, larger bases, and a ban on defensive shifts as soon as the 2023 season. In the press conference, Manfred said this “may be most important.”

One component that had been a central sticking point in the MLB lockout negotiations, an international draft, was not finalized. However, it will continue to be negotiated as the season continues. The league proposed a 20-round draft for players at least 16 years old from countries outside the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada. Currently, teams bid in a silent auction for players from outside those countries, disadvantaging teams from small markets with fewer funds. 

The MLBPA will have until July 25 to decide whether they will accept the league’s proposal for an international draft, which could be implemented as early as 2024.

“Our union endured the second-longest work stoppage in its history to achieve significant progress in key areas that will improve not just current players’ rights and benefits, but those of generations to come,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement. “Players remain engaged and unified from beginning to end and in the process re-energized in our fraternity.”

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