December 10, 2021 | SPORTS | By Michael Braithwaite | Photo by Danielde Koning
At 12 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) officially expired.
As a result, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. officially locked out MLB players, beginning the ninth work stoppage in the history of the American sports league.
Although both sides had been negotiating the terms of a new contract for months leading up to the stoppage, foundational philosophical differences between the two sides regarding player revenue share – the percentage of income generated by the MLB that goes to the players – left the negotiations at a standstill and resulted in the CBA expiring. Then, the lockout began.
The MLBPA wants an increase in the threshold of the Competitive Balance Tax – also known as the luxury tax – from $210 million to $245 million, as well as a new eight-team draft lottery system, an increase in minimum player salaries, and a new playoff system bracket on division realignment.
On the other hand, the MLB offered either a slight increase in the CBT to $214 million or the proposition of a $100 million salary floor with a $180 million CBT. The league also offered a three-team draft lottery, and a 14-team playoff bracket as part of its attempt to compromise with the Player’s Association.
The new propositions regarding the salary floor and draft lottery would attempt to solve the MLB’s long-standing issues regarding small-market baseball teams, such as the Colorado Rockies, being largely uncompetitive compared to large-market teams, such as the New York Yankees. It would generally provide a more entertaining baseball product for fans to watch.
However, these ideas as proposed in their current form by the MLB would severely undermine the goals set out for the negotiations by the MLBPA and reduce player salaries instead of increasing them.
A large spot of contestation between both sides is the fact that, although league revenue has increased significantly over the last five years, the average player salary has declined 6.4% since 2017, and the median player salary has dropped over 30% since 2015.
Furthermore, even though veteran superstar talents such as Max Scherzer will earn multi-year $100+ million contracts, almost two-thirds of the players on opening day rosters last year had a salary below $1 million, a product of the current minimum player salary sitting at $570,500.
It was with these positions that the MLBPA came to the negotiating table. In a statement from MLB commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr., he posited that the proposals set by the Players Association “would make the game less competitive, not more.”
Thus, the MLB decided to lock out its players due to the expired CBA, a move that, according to MLB insider Jeff Passan, was predicted to happen over five years ago. Passan shared his thoughts in a published ESPN video clip. “This is something that has been brewing for the better part of a decade now, and [the lockout] is the upshot,” he said.
As a result of being locked out by the league, the players are unable to collect any due payments, access their team’s facilities, or sign with a team if they are a free agent.
This can be especially problematic in some cases. Pitcher Jameson Taillon lost access to his team’s physical therapy facilities due to the lockout. Now, he is responsible for his own PT to help him rehabilitate from an end of season surgery until a new CBA is in place.
Galileo Defendi-Cho ’24, a lifelong fan of the San Francisco Giants and Bay Area native, shared his support for the players in their fight to earn a bigger slice of MLB revenue.
“It’s upsetting to see Major League Baseball not take care of its players,” Defendi-Cho said. “Ultimately, they have to be put first, and I don’t think that’s been happening.”
While all aspects of the lockout are devastating to the players, it also has major repercussions on the fan experience, as not only does it halt the MLB free agency period, but it also has the potential to stop games from being played once the new season begins in February.
Although the previous baseball season just ended in November, there have already been multiple massive free-agent signings. The Texas Rangers, for example, spent half a billion dollars on their middle infield. However, there are also many free agents who have not yet signed to a team.
Two of the most notable of these names are shortstop Carlos Correa and first baseman Freddie Freeman, both of whom are considered top names on the market.
A lengthy lockout not only prevents players such as these from signing with a team, but also prevents them from even negotiating the terms of a contract, which could stall their signings for days or potentially weeks after the lockout ends and even eat into their regular season play.
Although this lockout is likely to last quite some time, both the owners and the players would prefer to avoid a work stoppage that lasts into the regular season, as not only would it further drag on a conflict that they would both like to resolve but also it would eat into their earnings.
Moreover, the MLB has been trying desperately to figure out how to attract more fans, and a prolonged stoppage in play that eats not only into the preseason but also the regular season would likely set them further back in that regard.
Hopefully, a compromise between both sides can be reached sooner rather than later. A prolonged work stoppage in the MLB would not only intensify the already present resentment between owners and players but also further strain the league’s relationship with both its die-hard fans and the general television audience, the latter of which it has recently struggled to keep sufficiently entertained compared to other major North American sports.