Major League Baseball commenced a lockout of its players early Thursday morning after a pair of Wednesday meetings left the league and the MLB Players Association at a bargaining impasse.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. ET Wednesday, sending the sport into its first work stoppage since 1994-95, ending more than 26 years of labor peace.
“Today is a difficult day for baseball, but as I have said all year, there is a path to a fair agreement, and we will find it,” Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. “I do not doubt the League and the Players share a fundamental appreciation for this game and a commitment to its fans. I remain optimistic that both sides will seize the opportunity to work together to grow, protect, and strengthen the game we love.”
The work stoppage douses the hottest hot stove in years, as a number of players inked last-minute deals Wednesday prior to the expiration of the CBA. During the past month, clubs have signed more than $1.7 billion worth of free agents, and an additional $500 million in contract extensions.
Any further signings will have to wait for a new CBA to be agreed upon, as Major League transactions -- meaning those involving players on 40-man rosters and others considered members of the union -- are not permitted during a lockout. (Minor League transactions are allowed.) Union members and clubs will not be allowed to communicate with each other until a new deal is reached, either.
This week’s meetings in Irving, Texas, brought about little movement between the two sides. Wednesday’s session broke off early in the afternoon, roughly eight hours before the CBA was set to expire.
MLB and the MLBPA met for 45 minutes Wednesday morning, then after the two sides broke off for a while, they gathered again to continue discussions. According to sources, the league went to that second meeting with an idea to break the logjam, offering a path forward by dropping certain issues on both sides. The union quickly rejected it, causing the meeting to end after just seven minutes.
The two sides did not meet again on Wednesday, leading to the league’s decision to institute a lockout.
“This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the Players’ resolve to reach a fair contract,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement. “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.”
The union’s primary objective has been a significant overhaul of the sport’s economic system, including three core components that have been part of the CBA for decades: six-year free agency, Super Two eligibility, and revenue sharing.
According to sources, MLB’s proposals last week included a number of concessions to players including an NBA-style draft lottery, a universal designated hitter, an increase to the minimum player salary, an increase in the CBT (competitive balance tax) threshold, and the elimination of the qualifying offer system, which would remove draft-pick compensation from all free agents.
MLB had also offered a 14-team postseason format in a proposal that would have increased the CBT threshold from $210 million to $214 million, eventually climbing as high as $220 million. The union’s latest proposal, which initially called for a $248 million CBT threshold, had dropped to $245 million, leaving a sizeable gap between the two sides.
The union also proposed a pair of 12-team expanded postseason ideas, one of which included realignment that would create two divisions in each league – one with eight teams and another with seven.
“To be clear: this hard but important step does not necessarily mean games will be cancelled,” Manfred wrote in his letter. “In fact, we are taking this step now because it accelerates the urgency for an agreement with as much runway as possible to avoid doing damage to the 2022 season.”