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Opinion: When Will The MLB Lockout End?
After roughly 25 years of labor peace, Major League Baseball currently sits in a state of limbo. On December 2, 2021, a day after the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement ended, the owners made the decision to lock out the players and put a halt to any baseball activities.
As a result, there have been no more player transactions, no players allowed to use team facilities (including rehab work), nor even communication between players and teams.
Instead, the silence has been almost deafening. Yes, there were a couple of brief negotiations in the middle of December that focused on the small stuff, but nothing substantial that was going to move the needle for any sort of resolution or agreement.
With just a little over a month from when pitchers and catchers normally report, let’s take a look at where the baseball lockout stands and when it might end.
Issues On The Table
It is impossible to have any idea of when the lockout will end without first identifying what is being argued. The simplest response is money, but in reality, it goes beyond even that.
For the owners, they mostly want to keep things the way they have been. Why? Well, the status quo is fine with them because they are doing very well financially under the current agreement.
How well owners are doing, we may never know because, to this point, the owners have been unwilling to open their books. However, with league revenues soaring and payrolls reaching their lowest since 2015, the teams are doing just fine.
One area that we do know that the owners would like to change is the playoff format. Simply put, more teams equals more money, so the owners would love to expand the playoff field.
Teams get all the television revenue from the postseason while players get just a percentage of gate fees, so it is once again beneficial financially for the owners to have more teams playing.
For the players, they also care about money, but they are more focused on the young and the non-superstars. It is not the Corey Seager $325 million contracts the players are worried about; rather, it is how soon players can cash in and the middle baseball class that holds the focus.
One issue is service time and manipulation of that time. Currently, it takes six years of service time for a player to reach free agency. The players would like to have a caveat that would allow someone who is 29.5 years old and has five years to become a free agent.
Basically, they want to be able to help young superstars get financially rewarded for their output as opposed to having to wait until they have already peaked before making any real money. A good example of this would be with a player like Juan Soto, who in four years of superstardom has made less than $10 million (with $8.5 of that coming this last season).
Furthermore, the players would like to have safeguards in place to ensure that teams don’t purposely hold players in the minor leagues to manipulate their service time, something that has been arguably done several times before with players like Kris Bryant.
The players would also like to see the issue of tanking addressed. Over the last decade, teams like the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, and Baltimore Orioles have all torn down their rosters (and payrolls) to the barebones with the mindset that they can benefit from being awful by being rewarded with high draft picks.
For the Astros and Cubs, the argument could be made that tanking eventually led to championships; however, it has also meant less money being spent on players.
This is not to say that these are the only issues. Topics like the universal designated hitter, consistency with baseballs, reduction of regular-season games, and more are all being discussed as well.
The problem is that some of these topics will get real contentious and could take weeks if not longer, to hammer out. Given that the players and owners haven’t really even begun to negotiate these topics is concerning for the regular season.
What About Free Agency?
This is the other dilemma that this lockout presents. There are a lot of good players that are still free agents and without jobs. Players like Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Kris Bryant, Trevor Story, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, Carlos Rodon, Anthony Rizzo, Clayton Kershaw, and others are still technically in the unemployment line.
Again, as it stands, these players will not be able to sign or even negotiate with teams until the lockout is lifted.
While this could lead to an extremely exciting few days after the lockout ends, it is tough for fans to get excited until that point is reached.
When Can We Expect Negotiations To Begin?
On January 3, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that there are currently no negotiations currently scheduled.
What will really be the driving force is when both sides are at risk of losing money. For the players, that doesn’t really hit until the regular season starts. For owners, though, that starts as early as the end of February when Spring Training Games would begin.
March 31 is when the regular season is slated to begin, so that becomes even more pressing for both sides to reach a resolution by that point.
By the end of January, expect both sides to be back at the table to restart negotiations on some of the bigger topics. Just because they get back to the table in January doesn’t mean they will get an agreement done by then, though.
Expect this to drag on for some time. I would wholeheartedly expect Spring Training games to be interrupted and could see it going even beyond that. Sadly, from the time the lockout started, my expectation was that there would be a regular season this year, but it likely wouldn’t start on time.
At this point, the owners and union haven’t given me any reason to waiver from this prediction. As a result, my guess is that we see an Opening Day for MLB closer to the end of April than the end of March.
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