With Major League Baseball’s collective agreement with the MLB Players’ Association expiring at midnight Wednesday night, the league’s 30 owners voted to lock out players starting Thursday, creating the first work stoppage since 1994-95 .
MLB officials met several times this week with their union counterparts as well as players from the MLBPA Executive Board, but as expected, there was not enough lead for the parties to come to a conclusion. deal during what is expected to be the most controversial CBA negotiations since 2002.
Instead, Commissioner Rob Manfred, at the request of the owners, will freeze all league affairs until a deal is struck. This means that no exchanges, no free agent signatures and no players are allowed inside the club’s facilities.
The looming CBA expiration sparked a free agent frenzy in the days and hours leading up to it, as six players agreed to nine-figure contracts and teams dealt more than 1.7 billion dollars in contracts in November.
Such a profit would indicate a healthy industry, and no one is losing money in the big leagues, from owners to managers to players. But that CBA fight lasted for five years, as several owners moved their clubs away from veteran competing players and drastically devalued veteran players in the years following the 2016 deal.
The players are therefore looking for radical changes to compensation to counter the increased valuation of young talent by the industry. The MLBPA has proposed that six years of service is still required for a free agency – or five years if a player is 29 and a half or older in the fifth year of the CBA. They are also looking for other ways to get young, highly productive players paid earlier, based on reward and performance criteria. As it stands, teams can unilaterally set salaries for players with zero to three years of service, regardless of their value.
In a letter to fans posted on the league’s website which has been cleaned of any mention of current players on its homepage, Manfred was quick to put the blame on the players by lamenting the league’s inability. “To extend our 26 year history of labor peace and reach an agreement with the MLBPA before the expiration of the current collective agreement.”
“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,” said Manfred, who runs a league that has seen 21 of 30 franchises achieve. the World Series since 2001. “It’s just not a viable option. From the start, the MLBPA was reluctant to stray from its starting position, compromise or collaborate on solutions.
“… Sadly, it appears that the Players’ Association came to the bargaining table with a strategy of confrontation rather than compromise. the weakening of the competitive equilibrium tax and the shortening of the period of time that players play for their teams. All of these changes would make our game less competitive, not more. “
Indeed, the players hope to move the franchises away from the use of the luxury tax as a de facto salary cap and, at the very least, set the tax cap at a much higher level. It stood at $ 210 million (including salaries and benefits for the entire 40-man roster) for the 2021 season and has not grown at a rate commensurate with the revenues of this industry by nearly of $ 11 billion.
In final proposals exchanged on Wednesday, players called for a luxury tax threshold of $ 245 million, with no progressive penalties for violators; the owners are offering a threshold of $ 214 million, which will rise to $ 220 million in the final year of a five-year agreement.
This is a large but seemingly navigable chasm, and it indicates that player proposals stem from a desire to change owner behavior, or at the very least make governors more flexible on spending.
Max Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, who as a member of the MLBPA executive board has attended several bargaining sessions, said his three-year, $ 130 million deal with the New Mets York says new owner Steve Cohen should ignore the luxury tax. That wouldn’t be an outlier.
“This is a specific thing that we are negotiating on at the moment – how the teams view this as a cap and will not spend too much on it despite the penalties being quite negligible,” said Scherzer of Irving, TX. , during a video press conference featuring him as the Met. “Steve showed he was willing to do anything to win. It’s music to my ears.”
The compensation changes players want are relatively aggressive, and that’s before any issues on the field – extended playoffs, clock, designated hitter – are addressed. This is compounded by the fact that players have little to offer owners in return other than some form of playoff expansion that would generate significant income.
MLBPA countered MLB’s proposal for a 14-team playoff field with a 12-team option, which would increase television revenue but, in their view, maintain the integrity of the regular season. and would force franchises to compete more fervently to make the playoff field.
While both sides hoped the looming specter of a deadline would force them to move closer to a deal, it’s no surprise that such complex and potentially disruptive matters were not agreed upon at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday. .
So what now?
The hours leading up to the start of the lockout saw a new wave of trades and signings, including the Chicago Cubs who agreed to a three-year, $ 71 million deal with right-hander Marcus Stroman and player from infielder-champion Chris Taylor returns to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a four-year, $ 60 million pact.
The Brewers and Red Sox traded their outfielder, with Hunter Renfroe heading to Milwaukee and Jackie Bradley Jr. returning to Boston. The Reds have announced the signing of five minor-league free agents, a group that wants a definitive spring destination even if it doesn’t come with any money back guarantee.
While technically a work stoppage, the timing of the CBA’s expiration offers both parties a chance to come to an agreement before any game – exhibition or regular season – is over. lost. Yet that too is not an unlimited window. Pitchers and receivers are scheduled to show up for spring training starting February 15, with exhibition games starting 11 days later.
The opening day is set for March 31.
It is also the start of the first pay period for players. The MLBPA withheld distributions from certain licensing funds to provide a salary pool for players if the work stoppage extends into the regular season and Scherzer has said they are ready for a long term if necessary.
“We have a pretty good war chest behind us, money that we can allocate to players for situations like this,” Scherzer said. “Knowing, for the past five years, we have been thinking that we will need as big a war chest as possible to get into this business.
“The best case scenario would be not to exploit it. Obviously, we’re hoping we can get a deal done at some point.”
Indeed, the main players involved are all old enough to remember the dark days of 1994-95, when a player strike wiped out World Series 94 and the owners attempted to deploy replacement players to start the following season. . Only a temporary injunction against the owners allowed the players to return to the field under the terms of the old collective agreement.
Once again, this round shouldn’t get so bloody and threaten the 2022 season so badly. But it wasn’t since the September 2002 negotiations – when the cloud of 94 loomed much more significantly – that the parties did not. ‘had weighed such important questions. At the time, it was all about drug testing and revenue sharing, and a deal was struck just hours before the games were put in jeopardy.
Now, potentially a whole winter of discord awaits, threatening the rituals of spring.