Major League Baseball’s first work stoppage in 26 years officially began Thursday when the team’s 30 owners decided to lock out the players.

The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union expired at 11:59 p.m. EST Wednesday, and there isn’t much optimism that the two sides will strike a new deal soon.

The lockout has long been expected, even as free agents signed contracts totaling well over $1 billion. The baseball world waits to see if labor negotiations can be resolved quickly enough for the 2022 MLB season to be unaffected.

“When we began negotiations over a new agreement, the Players Association already had a contract that they wouldn’t trade for any other in sports,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Baseball’s players have no salary cap and are not subjected to a maximum length or dollar amount on contracts. In fact, only MLB has guaranteed contracts that run 10 or more years, and in excess of $300 million. We have not proposed anything that would change these fundamentals.

"While we have heard repeatedly that free agency is ‘broken’ – in the month of November $1.7 billion was committed to free agents, smashing the prior record by nearly 4x. By the end of the offseason, clubs will have committed more money to players than in any offseason in MLB history.”

 

 

A lockout means that MLB executives are barred from communicating with players. There will be no trades or additions in free agency until a new collective bargaining agreement is agreed upon. Star free agents like Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman and Kris Bryant will remain unsigned.

Among changes the union would like to see is for players to be eligible for free agency earlier in their careers. Players can’t become free agents until they have six years of MLB service time. The Major League Baseball Players Association wants players to be eligible for salary arbitration after their second season instead of their third, ESPN reports.

The players want changes to be made that discourage tanking games in order to improve a club's draft position. Many teams are seemingly willing to be noncompetitive for several seasons in exchange for high draft picks. 

Five teams won 65 games or fewer in the 2021 MLB season. Ten years ago, only two teams finished below the 65-win mark.

The league has offered to do away with draft-pick compensation for teams that allow top free agents to walk, according to ESPN, though it proposed a draft lottery that would only include the top three picks. 

There is a significant gap between what the two sides want for the competitive-balance-tax threshold. The union reportedly proposed setting the threshold at $245 million, hoping to encourage more spending from owners. The league reportedly only offered to raise the mark from $210 million to $214 million.

“This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the players’ resolve to reach a fair contract,” Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, said in response to the lockout. “We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership.”

Playoff expansion is also an issue. The owners want a 14-team postseason, while the players have offered to increase the field from 10 to 12 clubs. There is a belief that if it’s much easier to make the playoffs, owners will have less incentive to spend more money building their rosters.

 

 

MLB and its players have time to reach an agreement before missing games becomes an issue. Spring training games aren’t scheduled to start until Feb. 26. Even if a deal is struck in late January, the upcoming regular season won’t be impacted. 

The 1994-1995 strike was MLB’s last work stoppage. The 1994 World Series was canceled, and the 232-day work stoppage forced the league to trim the 1995 schedule from 162 to 144 games.

Rob Manfred In this picture, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred speaks at Clark Sports Center during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 29, 2018, in Cooperstown, New York. Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images