MLB lockout threatens ’22 season

The lockout marks the first work stoppage in Major League Baseball since the 1994-95 strike that lasted 232 days.

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The lockout marks the first work stoppage in Major League Baseball since the 1994-95 strike that lasted 232 days.

Stephen Wade, Staff Writer

At 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 2, Major League Baseball implemented a lockout as the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expired the previous night. The lockout begins the game’s ninth work stoppage in baseball history and the first since 1994.

League commissioner Rob Manfred in an open letter to fans said he believes the lockout is “necessary” and may be the best way to protect the 2022 baseball season. “Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season,” he wrote.

The lockout shuts down the entire league and prohibits teams from talking to players and players from using team facilities until an agreement in negotiations of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) can be reached. The CBA covers everything from the length of the season, what kind of per diem players receive on the road, as well as the economic side such as free agency and arbitration.

A free agent is a player who has six years of service time at the major-league level, and is eligible to sign with any team for any terms to which the two parties can agree. But, before a player can go into free agency, they must first go through arbitration.

Salary arbitration kicks in for salary disputes with players of at least three years of service time at the MLB level, but don’t have six years yet to be a free agent. The player selects a salary they wish to be paid and the team selects a salary they think the player should be paid. A third party arbitrator then selects the salary that is judged to be most fair.

The MLBPA wants to overhaul the arbitration and free agency system for the middle and low-tier players, as well as some high-tier players that peak early in their career. The players want to become free agents earlier than six years into their big league career in order for middle and low-tier players to have more representation and get paid more while they are still in their prime.

The average age of a player making their MLB debut is 24.8 years old, which means by the time they can be a free agent they are either approaching or already in their thirties and their talent is most likely declining.

Former MLB outfielder Josh Hamilton is a great example of why this is a problem. Hamilton was an named to the All-Star Team five years in a row, won three Silver Sluggers, and was named the American League MVP – all before he was eligible to be a free agent, when he was being paid about $5 million a year. Then, at the age of 31, Hamilton went into free agency, and he signed a $125 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels. But his performance was in decline and he ran into troubles with injuries.

While some baseball teams will still give out huge deals to players in their thirties – like the New York Mets with 37-year-old pitcher Max Scherzer, and the Texas Rangers with second baseman Marcus Semien, who is 31 – most teams would rather pay cheap for a young, developing player with nearly the same production as a veteran free agent.

But, make no mistake, both Scherzer and Semien are still great players despite their age; Scherzer and Semien both finished third in voting for the Cy Young and MVP award in their respective leagues. But players who aren’t on their high level often sign for very little money by comparison, or end up with big contracts but a disappointing performance to show for it.

Baseball’s union says players are not getting a fair chance of getting paid according to their talent until they are past their prime, leaving owners overpaying for whose on-field production will fade away within a season or two. While the MLBPA wants to fix this problem, baseball team owners want to continue underpaying young talent because it is good for business and saves them money.

Another topic being negotiated is a universal designated hitter, or DH for short. A designated hitter is a player that is used in the American League to bat for the pitcher to add another productive spot in the lineup, since pitchers traditionally can not hit well. In the National League, there is no DH, and pitchers still have to hit in the lineup. Although some pitchers have enjoyed batting and even found mild success from time to time, the majority of pitchers would much rather focus on just pitching.

Atlanta Braves pitcher Max Fried won the Silver Slugger award as the best hitting pitcher in baseball this past season, but even he approves of the universal DH.

“I really enjoy hitting, but it’s good for the game,” Fried said in an interview with The New York Times. “At the end of the day, for me to go out and hit every five days, or be a pitcher that’s hitting, it’s not as good as having a guy whose job is to hit.”

Having a DH in the National League allows for more exciting games with a batter that can actually hit as opposed to the vast majority of pitchers that will mainly bunt, strike out, or not even swing the bat because they do not want to injure themselves. A universal DH also could enhance the market and give more opportunities for players who are not the best fielders, but can hit extremely well, since they would be able to just hit for any team, regardless of league.

An additional change the players are trying to make is a higher luxury tax. This means when a team spends over a certain amount on paying their players, they must pay a luxury tax based on how much they went over the threshold. Each consecutive year the team is over that threshold, the tax increases and penalties can even include loss of draft picks.

Players want to penalize teams even more for their excessive spending in order to prevent big market, rich teams from spending so much on high-tier players in free agency. This would make the game more competitive as small market teams with less money to spend can have more of an opportunity in free agency.

This is not a foolproof plan. Big-market teams like the New York Yankees have so much money that they are willing to pay the tax and have draft picks taken away in order to stack their rosters with the best players in free agency. This is why a potential harsher penalty for spending more than the threshold allows could prevent the Yankees and other teams from spending money to stack their teams.

As far as a timeline for how long this lockout will last, nobody really knows. But Manfred assures fans that Major League Baseball is working with the players to make sure the season starts on time

“We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time,” Manfred wrote in the open letter to the fans.

In response to Manfred’s letter, the MLBPA also put out a statement. “We remain determined to return to the field under the terms of a negotiated collective bargaining agreement that is fair to all parties, and provides fans with the best version of the game we all love.”

As for baseball fans, all we can do is wait for the league to reach an agreement with the players and anticipate another great season of Major League Baseball.