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Why The MLB Lockout Won't End Anytime Soon

Baseball's ninth work stoppage isn't threatening the 2022 season just yet, but delayed talks and pride between the owners and players aren't helping.

Major League Baseball (MLB) is in its ninth work stoppage—the first one in 26 years. Unfortunately for baseball fans, it doesn't look like it's ending any time soon.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the Players Association (MLBPA) expired at 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 1, without a new agreement in place. The owners unanimously voted to immediately lock out the players until a new CBA is signed. Outside of meetings during the following morning with the media, the two sides have been publicly silent since the start of the lockout. And now, according to The Athletic's Evan Drellich, it is unlikely that MLB and the MLBPA will discuss core economics until January.

In simpler terms, you still have time to find a new hobby until the baseball world opens back up for business. And really, this should not come as any surprise whatsoever.

Drellich also reports that the two sides are meeting Thursday to "discuss areas outside of core economics." There are more than 30 subjects in collective bargaining, and the two sides are actually not so far apart in many of them. However, the ones where they have major differences—and maybe only a light year can measure the vast expanse—involve core economics, including salary arbitration, free agency and revenue sharing.

While it's good the two sides of discussing anything at this point, it's fair for fans to ask why the two sides aren't discussing the topics that need the most amount of work. According to Drellich, "the sides would likely be saying the same things to each other over and over." This reinforces the chasm between MLB and the MLBPA, a relationship that is, at its best, contentious.

The two sides have been at odds with each other for quite a while, especially on the players' side. They haven't liked how the past two CBAs have gone down, and now they are fighting for change. In addition, the discord between MLB and the MLBPA was on full display in May and June of 2020, where they attempted to negotiate a restart of the regular season after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed spring training and put the season on an indefinite hold. They were unable to come to an agreement, and Manfred then exercised his right to implement a 60-game season (per a previous agreement that was made in March).

In response, the MLBPA filed a $500 million grievance against the league for not negotiating in good faith. The basis of their claim is the league waited until they could have the shortest possible season to recoup financial losses.

In negotiations prior to the start of the lockout, some of the proposals included outlandish terms—ones that one side knows the other side won't go for, but included them anyway. One proposal from the owners completely threw out the salary arbitration system in favor of one that pays players based on FanGraph's calculation of Wins Above Replacement

Another proposal from the owners included a $100 million salary floor and decrease of the competitive balance tax (also known as the luxury tax) threshold from $210 million down to $180 million. Not only is a decrease to the tax threshold a non-starter for players, a system that has a spending limit with a floor resembles a salary cap system, which the players have vehemently stood against for decades. Remember, the last time the owners tried offering a salary cap, the players ended up going on strike.

The MLBPA isn't innocent either. Not only are they pushing for players to reach salary arbitration earlier, they are trying to get players to reach free agency after five years of service (in some circumstances) instead of six years. In addition, the players' answer to preventing "tanking" includes taking $100 million from the revenue-sharing system

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred specifically addressed these points in the wake of the lockout, and he was clear they were non-starters for the owners.

"Let's take five-year free agency. We already have teams in smaller markets that struggle to compete. Shortening the period of time they can control players makes it even harder for them to compete. It's also bad for fans in those markets. The most negative reaction we have is when a player leaves via free agency. We don't see that—making it available earlier—we don't see that as a positive. Taking $100 million away from teams that are already struggling to put a competitive product on the field? I don't see how that's helpful."

Right now, you may be thinking, So, if the two sides refuse to address these topics until January, what hope is there for spring training, or even the regular season, starting on time? Are we going to have a full season, or any season at all?

Simply, neither side wants to lose money. Losing spring training games costs revenue, and any lost games means lost paychecks for players. The threat of lost revenue will be a pressure point for both sides.

The calendar will also provide pressure to get a deal done, and will create leverage for both sides as well. Players don't get paid until the regular season begins, so lost revenue during spring training impacts the owners more than the players. However, a shortened spring training is a risk for the health of players during the season. We saw injuries sky rocket during the truncated 2020 season after a quick three-week Spring Training 2.0. Neither side wants another barrage of injuries. It's obviously bad for the players, and the league is at higher risk of losing money if their star players miss significant time with injuries.

Take the Texas Rangers, for example. They just dropped $561.2 million in free agency, and landed two of the five coveted shortstops on the market. Corey Seager and Marcus Semien are franchise cornerstones that will sell tickets. Imagine the backlash if...well, for the superstitious fans, I won't say it.

In addition, there needs to be time allotted for 141 big-league free agents to look for employment, for clubs to come to terms with their arbitration-eligible players and the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft needs to be rescheduled. Even a two-week period to get all of this done is far too short, and too many players may rush into contracts they wouldn't have agreed to in a normal offseason.

Feb. 1 is an unofficial date to get something done. Anything after that could begin affecting the length of spring training. If Feb. 1 comes and goes without an agreement, the process will become a slippery slope. Every day that would go by without a new CBA could negatively impact the season in a number of ways. Despite what fans may think, both sides are smart. They know this. Collective bargaining is a game of chicken, and it's going to take one side to cave before real progress is made.

That's why you won't see MLB and the MLBPA really try to tackle the issues that matter for a while. Pride will surely be an issue. Neither side wants to cave to the other, especially the players. Eventually, time will force one side to tip their hand.

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