As we currently sit in the thick of the free-agent market that is full of hustle and bustle this time of year, all may be put to a screeching halt at 11:59 p.m. ET on December 1 as the Major League Baseball Players’ Association prepares for a lockout due to no new Collective Bargaining Agreement. As the Players Union and Commissioner Rob Manfred still have much to discuss before a deal is reached, the effects of a lockout would loom heavy on the game and business of baseball for an unexpected amount of time.
If the current Collective Bargaining Agreement does indeed expire at the aforementioned deadline, this would be the first lockout for Major League Baseball since the 1994-95 season. With no such lockout over the last 25 years, MLB will have to rely on past precedents from the NFL and NHL when it comes to scenario-based decisions during the lockout period.
We knew rumblings of this situation could come to flourishion last year when the world was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the battle began between the two sides on how baseball could return safely, while at the same time revenue could be salvaged. As tension in those discussions lasted for weeks, it did not put a glimmer of hope in our minds that this [CBA] situation would be any easier when the time came.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A LOCKOUT IS REACHED?
If the lockout does rear its ugly head when the clock strikes midnight on December 2, negotiations between both sides will be heavily monitored under a microscope. With the MLB offseason hitting an intense pause, here is a quick breakdown of the biggest tasks MLB teams and players CANNOT do during the hiatus:
- Conduct trades/free agency - including international players (ex: Seiya Suzuki - Japan)
- Player transactions (40-man rosters would freeze & optioning/outrighting players to the minors)
- Participate in the Winter Meetings (only the Minor League portion of the meetings can take place December 5-9 in Orlando, FL)
- Perform routine drug tests
- Players are barred from working out at team facilities or team-organized workouts (with the EXCEPTION of players rehabbing from injury)
ISSUES UP FOR DEBATE - OWNERS VS. PLAYERS
Since most of us are not equipped with every single nuance of the ongoing negotiations behind closed doors, here are some key points of emphasis that the Players Union (Tony Clark - MLB Players Association Executive Director) and MLB (Manfred & Team Owners) want to address and solve in the attempt to create a more “even” control of the current system baseball has in place:
- A universal DH in the American and National League
- Expansion of the playoffs (# of teams, wild-card round format, etc.)
- Pace-Of-Play rule changes (pitch clock, electric strike zone, larger bases, limited pickoff attempts, pre-tacked baseballs, extra-inning format)
- Free agency eligibility - based on service time or age
- Salary structure for younger talent earlier in their careers
- Replace salary arbitration (for players of 3-5 years experience) with a fixed annual salary based on a player’s FanGraphs’ WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and other advanced stats
- Measures to prevent “tanking” and create more competitive play / devise a new draft lottery system instead of using an inversion of the previous year’s standings
NOW WE WAIT...
According to Manfred, the idea of “timing” is the biggest factor when it comes to labor negotiations at this stage of the offseason. He states: “I think when you look at other sports, the pattern has become to control the timing of the labor dispute and try to minimize the prospect of actual disruption of the season. That’s what it’s about. It’s avoiding doing damage to the season.”
With this potential lockout lasting an unknown period of time, the 2022 season could fall victim to a delay if negotiations drag out longer than expected. Spring Training games are currently slated to begin on February 25, with players and coaches reporting two to three weeks beforehand, followed by Opening Day just a month later on March 31. As we currently stand 88 days from the first games of Spring Training, all we can do is... SIT BACK & STAY TUNED!
In response to the likelihood the lockout happens on December 1, MLB and MLBPA agreed to move up this year’s tender deadline from December 2 to November 30. For those who are unfamiliar with the tender deadline, it takes into account the 40-man roster and gives teams the opportunity to cut players based on three primary factors: 1) salary (mostly arbitration-eligible players), 2) health/injury or 3) fit on the roster. Once a player is “non-tendered”, they become a free agent and typically settle for a 1-year contract (mostly with their original team, but sometimes can get snatched by another team).
MLB and players’ union have agreed to move tender deadline from Dec. 2 to 8pE on Nov. 30. This way, arbitration-eligible players will not be in contractual limbo. A player who gets non-tendered will have the ability to sign with a new club before lockout begins. 1/2— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 24, 2021