Is Baseball Really Not Going to Happen This Year?!?


Jayden Gonzalez, Editorial Board

Trapped in a seemingly unmovable state and unavoidable situation, an MLB lockout might just be the start of the season.

With the NFL season coming to a close, most sports fans anxiously await the next sports season to commence, or specifically, professional baseball. However, baseball is at risk of not being played this year. I know, it sounds crazy, but as it stands right now, baseball will not be starting on time. Why? Well, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and the Major League Baseball Owners failed to come to a consensus on the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) before its expiration date of December 2, 2021, and the MLBPA and MLB agreed to go into a lockout until they came up with a new CBA. This is only the 4th lockout and the 9th work stoppage in the history of MLB and the first work stoppage since the 1994-1995 strike. Fans feared this would be an issue since the players union and the owners often butt heads when it comes to negotiations. Neither side wants to accept or take responsibility for this stalemate, and both sides have little common ground or hope of coming to an accord any time soon. The player’s union, the owners, and even the fans all have their own views on how they can “fix” baseball while all of them favor their own biases and beliefs.

Why is this an issue?
Because the players union and the owners are nowhere near an agreement and have only met two times since the lockout. Ultimately, this impacts the revenue that baseball generates every year, which according to Forbes, lost over $1 billion in 2020 due to the pandemic. This situation also hurts many of the players who are still without a contract. When MLB made the decision to lockout the players, this decision also impacted other aspects of MLB including signing contracts, partaking in team activities, and entering any team facilities. Several of the league’s best players are without a contract and are at risk of not signing with a team until the spring when baseball starts up again.

What does the Player’s Union want?
The MLBPA, being a union, represents the players. Unions, as a rule, advocate for the best outcome for the players and speak on the behalf of them. In this case, the union is advocating for higher salaries for the players and more control over contractual time than they currently have, which is essentially the opposite of what the owners prefer. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, “The player’s union has proposed allowing players to reach free agency after six years of service or five years and age 29½, whichever comes first.” The current rule is that players are able to reach free agency after 6 years of playing in the MLB. This proposal would give the players at least a little bit more control of becoming free agents faster, ultimately giving them the ability to earn more money.
The union also wants to drastically increase the league’s minimum salary, which is currently at $575,500; the owners are fine with increasing it, just not as high as the MLBPA wants it to be. The players association believes that teams should always remain competitive and stop “tanking” and giving up on the season well before the season is even close to over, a major issue in baseball that has increased even more when smaller market teams refuse to spend money because they can’t “afford” it. The union wants to fix this by proposing an 8 team lottery where the worst 8 teams are not guaranteed the top picks. The owners are willing to, however, they’d rather it be a 3 team lottery instead of the proposed 8.
Again, one of the biggest issues between the union and the owners is money, whether it is the luxury tax or arbitration. According to Passan, “The CBT, or luxury tax threshold is currently at $210 million and serves as a de facto salary cap.” The player’s union has offered the new luxury tax to be $245 million. This again would favor the big markets franchises that enjoy spending millions of dollars every year, while also hurting the smaller market teams, who have to be more frugal and precise with the amount of money they hand out to players. Arbitration occurs when a player and the team cannot reach an agreement on salary based on the player’s contributions on the field, which begins after 3 years of service time. Often, teams manipulate this service time to delay arbitration as long as possible. The MLBPA wants arbitration to be after 2 years of service time. The MLBPA’s side of the negotiation is far different to the side of MLB owners, who have their own side to it.

What do the owners want?
MLB owners side of the agreement is mainly focused on control and wealth, making sure they aren’t losing money. For starters, they will not entertain any proposals that have anything but 6 years of service time. They also want the luxury tax at $220 Million instead of the MLBPA rumored $245 Million, so that bigger market teams like the Yankees, Mets, and Dodgers can’t spend at will and allow small market teams like the Mariners, Marlins, and Rays to still be able to sign quality players and have the same chances of winning the World Series as every other team. When it comes to arbitration, the owners want to have it remain at 3 years so they can control the service time of the players, but they also proposed a system that would replace the entire concept of arbitration with a specific formula.

Is there anything either side agrees on?
Surprisingly yes, which is a positive sign as negotiations continue. Both want to implement a universal DH rule, lowering the risk of a pitcher getting hurt while batting and increasing the probability of scoring. Also both sides agreed to get rid of the infamous “Runner on Second rule” where during the extra innings, the last batted out will start on second with no outs. This rule was meant to speed up the game of baseball, when in reality, all it did was frustrate the players and fans. Additionally, both sides are open to expanded playoffs, increasing the ultimate revenue of the game and increasing competition between teams.

What does the common fan want?
Many fans of baseball, including myself, side more with the player’s union than the owners. Commissioner Rob Manfred, who sides with the owners, is extremely disliked and criticized by the players and the fans for not doing enough to help the game grow. Many of the fans want the game to appeal to them, and not just as a business. Due to the pandemic, ticket and sale prices rose in an effort by the owners to recoup their money, hurting the owners more than helping them. Baseball saw record lows in attendance, especially in places like Miami, Oakland, and Tampa, who averaged under 10,000 fans under little to no COVID restrictions. Fans just want to have baseball start on time with very few changes that could ruin the game. Commissioner Manfred created rules that many viewed as unnecessary in a failed effort to “speed up the game.” According to Manfred, the average baseball game in 2021 was 3 hours, 10 minutes, and 7 seconds, while in 2020, it was 3 hours, 7 minutes, and 46 seconds. It is very difficult to speed up a game that has no time limit and is seen as a “thinkers game” by the majority that play.
Yet perhaps the real victims of this standstill are the stadium employees as well as local businesses that benefit when fans attend games during the lengthy baseball season. Many small businesses rely heavily on the baseball season to make up for the long cold winter.
With the MLBPA and MLB owners only meeting twice since the lockout started, it will be very interesting to see if baseball will start on time and what changes will be made to America’s favorite pastime. Only time will tell.