MLB Lockout for First Time Since 1994

MLB Commissioner, Owners and Players work through First MLB Lockout Since 1994
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred listens to a question during a news conference November 18 in Chicago. | Image by Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press

Major League Baseball (MLB) entered a lockout early Thursday morning after its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with its player’s union expired without a new contract in place.

The lockout is the first since 1994 and immediately freezes MLB teams from signing or trading players and bans players from team workout facilities and weight rooms. The lockout will also cancel this week’s annual winter meetings in Orlando, Florida, and if it goes on long enough, it could threaten the start of next season.

Talks for a potential agreement have been ongoing between negotiators for the players union and owners since last spring and continued this week at the Four Seasons at Las Colinas. Like the previous negotiations, it was clear that there was a vast gulf between the negotiating sides and that a deal was not imminent.

On Wednesday, with the CBA set to expire at 11:59 p.m. EST, the two sides reportedly met for just seven minutes before negotiators on the owners’ side left the table with no deal, ending a streak of four consecutive agreements without a work stoppage.

“We believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. “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.”

The proposals presented this week by the players stated a want for players to reach free agency earlier in their career and for salary arbitration to come following a player’s second season rather than his third. The players union has also been vocal about wanting changes over the declining average salary in the league and the heavy concentration of pay with top players.

The average salary in MLB peaked at just under $4.1 million in 2017, but after this year’s final numbers are calculated, the average is projected to fall to about $3.7 million.

The league’s salary is unevenly distributed. Among approximately 1,955 players who signed MLB contracts at any point this regular season, 112 earned more than $10 million as of August 31, while 1,397 earned under $1 million. Of those under $1 million, 1,271 earned $600,000 or less, and 332 earned under $100,000.

The owners have been unwilling to make drastic changes to grant the player’s desires. The owner’s proposal did offer to remove direct draft-pick compensation, penalizing teams for spending big on top free agents, and suggested a draft lottery to disincentivize teams from purposely losing to attain a higher draft pick.

The owner’s proposal also calls for an increase to the competitive-balance-tax threshold. The proposal would increase the current $210 million mark to $214 million, but that is far short of the $245 million the players union has proposed.

“This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the players’ resolve to reach a fair contract,” players union leader Tony Clark said in a statement. “We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership.”

One area the MLB players and owners agree on is a desire for an expanded postseason. Owners proposed going from 10 postseason teams to a 14-team plan, while the players have proposed an expansion to 12 teams and a realignment of divisions.

The MLB lockout comes just a month after the Atlanta Braves won the World Series and days after free agency began in the league. Knowing that the lockout was imminent, teams wasted no time agreeing to several big-money contracts with free-agent players. $1.9 billion in deals were approved across the league, including $1.4 billion in one day, with the Texas Rangers being the biggest spenders.

Spring training for the regular season starts in eleven weeks on February 16. The first day of the regular season is set for March 31. In the past, a minimum of three weeks of organized team workouts has been required before starting the season. A new CBA before March is necessary to avoid any disruption to the start of the regular season.

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