For the first time since 1994, a work stoppage has hit MLB. The premier baseball league in the world is now in its first MLB lockout since a labor strike cut short the ’94 season. The CBA expired at midnight last Wednesday, and the stormy tenure of commissioner Rob Manfred hit a new low with the MLB lockout outlook looking unpromising.
Baseball is now a civil war following a fantastic month of October and a frantic free agency period. The MLBPA is unhappy, the owners aren’t happy, and MLB finds itself in the middle of a bitter row. The lockout isn’t the end of the world right now; it’s December, and no baseball games are getting missed. However, the bitterness between all camps has grown since the last CBA signed in 2016.
Frustrations have grown through the stagnant free agency periods, small-market clubs tanking, sign stealing scandals, and Manfred’s naivety. A lockout felt like the only option for all parties. The scary thing now is what happens next?
How Did We Get Here?
The euphoric 2021 season held one dirty secret. The MLB lockout was inevitable. The MLBPA was unhappy for a long time. Super agent Scott Boras spoke back in the offseason periods of 2017 and 2018 about how stunned he was with the lack of free-agent activity. An explosion of tanking small-market teams stopped all free agency movement.
High-ticket players such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado could find deals. However others, like former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Kuechel, found it incredibly difficult to find a home.
Reluctant small-market teams left middle-tier free agents stranded. Players had no option but to accept low offers. Per ESPN, the average value of mid-tier contracts dropped from $11.8 million to $6.2 million. That happened despite league revenue climbing to $10 billion. Players wanted their piece of the pie; the owners didn’t want to give it to them. Money is the primary driver behind the MLB lockout.
There are other issues at play. MLB wishes to expand the playoffs with a wildcard round akin to what they implemented in 2020. Moreover, Commissioner Manfred and the league are trying to employ new methods to quicken the game. Pitch clocks, moving the mound, changing the ball, and even robotic umpires are all on the table.
The lockout is the significant juncture point of the baseball offseason. Baseball’s future and past are at stake in this tense stand-off. The game is searching for relevancy and new fans in a changing world, and a lengthy lockout could leave long-lasting scars.
MLB Lockout Outlook
As soon as the lockout was announced, the players union released their statement. In a strongly worded letter, the MLBPA explained their point of view and where the fault lies for the lockout.
One prominent agent said that his clients were gearing up for war. The bitterness between both sides is palpable, and no one is willing to budge so far.
The concern for baseball is how the intermediaries deal with the situation. The players almost universally dislike Manfred. His crass comments about the Commissioner’s Trophy and insistence on criticizing players for the lack of development of the game have created a frosty relationship.
Conversely, the owners are delighted with Manfred. The league inked a lucrative TV rights contract with TBS. The deal is worth $3.7 billion and goes through from 2022 to 2028. Manfred brokered that deal amidst the chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic.
That followed a deal with FOX that is worth $5.1 billion. Money is sloshing around baseball, and the owners are lapping it up. All is perfect in the world of the owners, right?
Not entirely. The owners’ major gripe is the attempted implementation of a minimum salary floor. Teams such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh are against the move. They plan on gutting the salary, tanking for draft picks, and will still make a profit due to lucrative local TV contracts, the revenue sharing system, and ticket sales
A salary floor would almost certainly raise the average salary of MLB’s middle class. However, it would hurt the owners’ wallets, and in all likelihood, wouldn’t improve their chances to make the playoffs and win a championship. The lockout cuts deep into baseball’s competitive integrity and ambitions.
When Will The MLB Lockout End?
Due to the holidays, talks will not resume until early January. This causes the outlook for the MLB lockout to be murky as of right now. Pitchers and catchers are expected to report in early February for spring training. That will almost certainly not happen. Spring training will get pushed back, which may impact the regular season.
Players and agents are hell-bent on getting what they want. The owners are determined not to cave. The long winter months may force fans to wait for a long thaw well into spring. Millionaires battling billionaires for more money will hurt the humble fans.
Baseball enjoyed a brilliant comeback season in 2021. The lockout may ruin that, and it could ruin more. Baseball’s future is quite literally at stake.