2021-2022 lockout

From BR Bullpen

After two decades of relative labor peace, the negotiations for the renewal of the Collective Bargaining Agreement following the 2021 season were contentious, as had been predicted in the previous two or three years when players began to complain about inadequacies in the free agency system. This resulted in the owners decreeing a lockout on December 1, 2021 at 11:59 pm, when a self-imposed deadline for concluding a new agreement came to pass without a result and the Agreement concluded in 2016 expired. As there were no games scheduled in the immediate, the main practical effect of the lockout was to halt all player transactions for the time being.

The lockout itself was preceded by a frenzy of free agent signings, totalling a value of $1.4 billion on the day of the lockout, a clear indication that a lack of revenue was not the issue. Indeed Major League Baseball's revenues had reached records in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic had created a set-back in 2020 by wiping out two-thirds of the season and keeping fans from being present in ballparks. However, a gradual return to normalcy had taken place in 2021 and it was unlikely that there would be lasting damage. The issues at stake were that players were upset that the share of revenues going to salaries was continually shrinking, and that some controversial business practices, such as tanking an entire season, manipulation of service time, and the now well-established revenue sharing and luxury tax were all conspiring to lower salaries, by artificially depressing the earnings of young players not yet eligible for salary arbitration, and making it attractive for tight-fisted owners to field a lower-quality team by eschewing pricier veterans in favor of those making the minimum salary. For their part, the owners were satisfied with the status quo and were not prepared to give up anything, hence the lockout.

The two sides could easily have decided to extend the previous agreement for a set period, as had been done in the past, but they had been preparing for a showdown for at least a couple of years and the negotiations had not gone smoothly prior to the lockout being decreed. MLB immediately spun the news that it was "forced" to decree a lockout "as the best mechanism to protect the upcoming season" and Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a letter to fans in that same vein, calling this a "defensive lockout" (whatever that means) and blamed the Players Association for being uncooperative, and both sides were accusing the other of making proposals that would lead to a decrease in competitive balance.

One of the first practical effect of the lockout was that MLB scrubbed any pictures of players from the MLB.com website, and also removed a number of stories, claiming that it did not want to take advantage of the use of players' names, images and likenesses under the situation. The net result, however, was to alienate fans even further. Another immediate consequence was that the major league portion of the 2021 Rule V Draft, scheduled for December 8th, was postponed indefinitely. Another immediate effect, although one that was not reported on by the media until February, was the temporary suspension of testing for PEDs, given that the joint drug testing agreement was part of the CBA. It marked the first time in 20 years that there was no such testing, and reporters were wondering if some players would not be tempted to skirt the long-time ban on these products given there was no chance of detection at the moment.

On the negotiations front, hardly anything happened for the first five weeks of the lockout, as the first face-to-face meeting (albeit via video call) only took place on January 13th. The owners claimed they had made important concessions at the meeting, on issues such as pay levels for players not yet eligible for arbitration and service time manipulation. There was no indication of significant progress from the talks, however. Another meeting took place on January 24th, this one in person, as the two sides were finally getting serious about discussing the issues at play. That meeting lasted for two days and the owners claimed afterwards that there was some progress made as they put forward a number of new proposals to address the issues raised by players concerning salaries of young players, eligibility for arbitration and competitiveness. On February 1st, the Players Association made some counter-proposals, an indication that there was finally some movement, albeit very slow.

On February 3rd, MLB requested the assistance of a federal mediator to help move the negotiations forward, as the prospects of spring training being delayed or canceled became more of a reality, and the media's interest in the conflict, which had been close to zero since the start of the lockout, began picking up. The use of an external mediator had been tried successfully by other sports in recent years, but would first need to receive the players' approval to go ahead. However, the players rejected the offer the next day, countering that the owners should instead table the response to their most recent counter-proposal, as they had proposed to do. MLB did that on February 12th, with a document totalling 130 pages including a number of concessions, although the immediate reaction from the players was that there was too little progress, making it almost certain that the start of spring training would be delayed, and also likely that the tentative date of March 31st for Opening Day would not be possible to meet. For example, while the owners had accepted the players' proposal for a bonus pool to be divided among players not yet eligible for arbitration, the owners proposed that its size be $15 million, whereas the players had been asking for $100 million.

On February 18th, MLB announced the first cancellation of games, with no spring training games to take place before March 5th at the earliest. In a masterpiece of doublespeak, MLB issued a statement claiming: "All 30 Clubs are unified in their strong desire to bring players back to the field and fans back to the stands", omitting the fact that they were the ones who had started the lockout that prevented games from being played. With the media starting to pay a bit more attention to the lockout, post-Super Bowl, the frequency of negotiating sessions became greater, with the Players' Association and the owners both making new proposals just after February 20th. However, the gap between the two sides remained very wide, and MLB stated that an agreement had to be reached by February 28th if the date of Opening Day was to be preserved, adding that they would be opposed to re-playing any cancelled games and threatening players with not being paid for those missed games. This finally triggered a bit of movement as the two sides met in person for eight days straight before the deadline. There was a marathon 16-hour session on the 28th, and while a deal was not reached, there was enough progress that the two sides agreed to give themselves a recess, and then extend the deadline for a further five hours on March 1st in order to complete the work. However, this did not prove to be sufficient, and shortly after 5:00 pm, Commissioner Manfred announced that Opening Day would need to be pushed and that regular season games would be lost for the first time since 1995. The luxury tax seemed to have been the biggest sticking point preventing an agreement. Commissioner Manfred then issued another letter to fans, confirming that the season's first two series had been cancelled as a result of the failure to reach an agreement, and expressing hope that the remaining issues could be resolved quickly, given how much progress had been achieved in recent days. Interestingly, mlb.com used the exact same URL for this letter as or the December 1st one, in effect hiding some of the more embarrassing wording from the initial proclamation from casual onlookers (the original letter could still be unearthed with a bit of sleuthing, though).

On March 9th, MLB announced the cancellation of another week's worth of games, as in spite of intense negotiations, no agreement was reached. The earliest date for the start of the season was now April 14th, although there was little optimism that this would hold. And yet, the very next day, March 10th, the two sides announced that not only had they reached an agreement on a new CBA, but it entailed playing a full 162-game season. In order to do this, three games were tacked on at the end of the season, and three more added as part of doubleheaders. The agreement came on the 99th day of the lockout. It involved starting the season on April 7th after slightly less than four weeks of spring training, and the key to reaching a deal was setting aside the issue that had popped up late in the game and had prevented reaching an agreement earlier, that of instituting an international draft of players, to be resolved by July 25th. The two sides agreed to raise the luxury tax from $230 million to $244 million over the length of the deal, to set the minimum salary at $700,000 with yearly increases, to create a $50 million bonus pool for players not yet eligible for arbitration, and to institute a draft lottery for the top six picks in the amateur draft, with all non-postseason teams eligible to enter the draw. The universal DH and expanded playoffs, comprising 12 teams, were included in the deal, which also provided the commissioner with additional leeway to propose rule changes such as a pitch clock or a ban on defensive shifts, on the advice of a Joint Competition Committee including representatives from both sides as well as an umpire. Other small but notable changes were that every team would now play every other one at least once per season, and that limits would be put in place on how many times a player could be optioned to the minors in a single season, in order to reduce "roster churn".

After the deal was reached, it was quickly ratified by player representatives, by a 26-12 vote, followed that same evening by unanimous approval by the 30 owners, ensuring its immediate entry into force - a necessity given the compressed schedule to complete off-season maneuverings (there were 200 free agents left unsigned) and get spring training under way. While Commissioner Manfred said he was "thrilled" to announce that baseball was back, he did find it necessary to apologize to fans for the ugly manner in which all this had gone down. The question was whether this would cause lasting damage to the game, which was already facing challenges in terms of popularity. Players were to report for spring training on March 13th, and exhibition games to start on March 17th or March 18th.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Scooby Axson: "MLB removes player photos and news from website as lockout begins", USA Today, December 2, 2021. [1]
  • Ronald Blum (Associated press): "Locked out MLB players reject offer of federal mediation", Yahoo! Sports, February 4, 2022. [2]
  • Ronald Blum (Associated Press): "MLB: It's deadline day to save opening day, 162-game season", Yahoo! News, February 8, 2022. [3]
  • Zach Crizer: "Baseball's new deal: Here are 5 ways MLB is about to change", Yahoo! Sports, March 11, 2022. [4]
  • Peter Dreier: "Baseball’s Labor Wars: MLB owners’ recent lockout was an effort to reverse the gains that players had won over decades of labor struggle. The owners failed.", Dissent, March 28, 2022. [5]
  • Mark Feinsand: "Baseball enters 1st work stoppage in 26 yrs.", mlb.com, December 2, 2021. [6]
  • Mark Feinsand: "MLB offers new proposals in CBA session", mlb.com, January 13, 2022. [7]
  • Mark Feinsand: "Significant progress made in CBA meeting", mlb.com, January 25, 2022. [8]
  • Mark Feinsand: "MLB asks federal mediator to assist in CBA talks", mlb.com, February 3, 2022. [9]
  • Mark Feinsand: "Start of Spring Training games delayed a week", mlb.com, February 18, 2022. [10]
  • Mark Feinsand: "MLB responds to MLBPA with new proposal", February 23, 2022. [11]
  • Mark Feinsand: "MLB, MLBPA agree to new CBA; season to start April 7", mlb.com, March 10, 2022. [12]
  • Hannah Keyser: "Sweeping MLB proposal leaves union underwhelmed, all but ensuring spring training delay", Yahoo! Sports, February 12, 2022. [13]
  • Hannah Keyser: "The MLB lockout is threatening games. Maybe it had to for players to make headway", Yahoo! Sports, February 25, 2022. [14]
  • Gabe Lacques: "MLB players are ready to 'burn the whole system down.' Here's what they want to avoid a strike." 'USA Today, February 22, 2019. [15]
  • Gabe Lacques: "MLB cancels 2022 Opening Day, games will be lost to labor dispute for first time since 1995", USA Today, March 1, 2022. [16]
  • Gabe Lacques: "Baseball is back: MLB, players agree on new CBA to salvage 162-game 2022 season", USA Today, March 10, 2022. [17]
  • Robert D. Manfred, Jr.: "A letter to baseball fans", mlb.com, December 2, 2021. [18]
  • Robert D. Manfred, Jr.: "A letter to baseball fans" (Take 2), mlb.com, March 2, 2022. [19]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Strike looming for Major League Baseball? It's looking a like real possibility", USA Today, February 21, 2019. [20]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Day 1 of MLB's lockout: Players show solidarity after league failed to 'seriously engage' in negotiations", USA Today, December 2, 2021. [21]
  • Jeff Passan: "MLB, players pause CBA negotiations after marathon day of talks, hope to finalize deal before 5 p.m. ET Tuesday deadline", ESPN.com, March 1, 2022. [22]
  • Bill Plaschke (Los Angeles Times): "Blame clueless owners for selfishly canceling MLB games and hurting fans", Yahoo! News, March 1, 2022. [23]
  • Jake Seiner (Associated Press): "Teams spend $1.4B in 1 day, then MLB locks out players", Yahoo! Sports, December 2, 2021. [24]
  • Bill Shaikin (Los Angeles Times): "Commentary: MLB owners and players can't agree on solutions — or even the problems", Yahoo! News, December 2, 2021. [25]
  • Bill Shaikin (Los Angeles Times): "Commentary: MLB owners make their bargaining position clear: No", Yahoo! News, December 2, 2021. [26]
  • Bill Shaikin (Los Angeles Times): "Commentary: Angry negotiations leave league divided as Rob Manfred and owners keep players united", Yahoo! News, February 26, 2022. [27]

Related Sites[edit]