By Connor Thomas
At 11:59pm on Wednesday, December 1st, the active MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire, thrusting Rob Manfred, the MLB owners, and the MLBPA into a lockout. There seems to be no sign of a new CBA being agreed upon over the next day and a half, which means that the MLB will be pushed into a work stoppage until all parties agree on new legislation. There are numerous issues that are still being hotly debated that are leading to this lockout, both on the field and in the operations of front offices, and they will become bigger and bigger news points as the lockout extends further into the winter. So while baseball fans across the country sit and wait for two ever-warring parties to finally settle on an agreement, here’s what you need to know about the issues that are causing baseball to once again enter a lockout.
Now, technically a lockout is meant to accelerate these conversations. It’s the owner’s version of a strike, a sort of warning to the other side that something needs to be worked out quickly or else. The issue is that with Major League Baseball, the plethora of issues does not usually lend to a quick solution. For this CBA, the main issues on the players side start with the diminishing salary returns that have become a trend across the league. While revenues continue to rise (outside of the 2020 pandemic season), the players’ salaries have not seen an equal rise to mirror the owners’ financial growth. Obviously, as the product on the field, those players feel entitled to their share of the profit increase, while owners continue to fight for their right to pay players at their discretion. This is resulting in two possible outcomes, and interestingly enough they could both potentially be implemented. First would be the players’ assertion that a “salary floor” is needed. That would mean that each organization would have to reach a certain player payroll threshold, forcing teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates – who are paying their entire Major League roster less combined than what Max Scherzer will be making alone with the Mets this next season – to pay their players closer to the MLB average. Some believe that this would also help to combat a tanking problem that has begun among the lower level teams across the league. The owners’ counter to this is that Major League Baseball is the only of the major 4 North American sports leagues to not have a salary cap, allowing players to earn a technically unlimited amount of money. There is a scenario where a new CBA includes both a salary floor and a salary cap, but where either of those numbers fall will be hotly debated by both sides.
Another issue that the players have their collective eyes on is the manipulation of MLB service time that has become a holdback for top prospects over the past few seasons. What teams have been doing is holding certain players in the minors longer than usual so that they do not hit certain benchmarks of time on a Major League roster that could change their arbitration eligibility, free agency status, and salary requirements. Basically teams are taking opportunities away from prospects so that they control their rights longer and for less money. This is a practice that gives the owners a certain power over their players, so naturally they’ll want to keep this practice in place if possible. These problems are not all owner vs. player, however. Some are simply differences team to team on some changes to on field rules, such as an institution of a universal DH, a change in the league’s playoff structure, or a revisit of the spidertack rule imposed partway through this past season. The most likely of those options to be actually instated seems to be a new playoff structure, especially since it’s the only one the MLB has officially proposed. That change would see the playoff field grow to 14 teams, and also include the ability for higher seeded teams to choose their first round opponents. The universal DH is something that has been talked about since it was experimented with during the shortened 2020 season, so that is also possible to be included. Changes to banned substances, banning of shifts, and other in game rule changes are less likely, but could still sneak their way into the new CBA when everything is all said and done.
You can see from all that listed out, there is plenty for the sides to argue over as they attempt to find common ground that will bring the MLB back from a work stoppage. Because of the variety of issues and the numerous sides to hear out, this lockout could certainly drag on long enough to affect the 2022 MLB Season. Our best hope is that this work stoppage will be taken care of before the regular season begins on March 31st, 2022, but even if it draws close to that the season could be pushed back slightly to allow a short spring training for teams. The bottom line is the faster the players and owners can come to a new agreement, the better for fans and the sport of baseball as a whole.