Everything You Need to Know About the 2022 MLB Lockout

The MLB went into its ninth work stoppage on December 2—the first since 1994.

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Major League Baseball (MLB) went into its ninth ever and first work stoppage on December 2—the first since 1994. For anyone who has been following the league for the past five years, this event comes as no surprise. To understand everything that is happening, one must go back to the beginning of organized sports.

Much of the trouble stems from antitrust laws in place. The goal of antitrust laws in the U.S. is to encourage competition and to prevent monopolies. For example, the laws make it illegal for all the store owners in a mall to get together and decide that they will sell socks for $90. In general, those laws are good for business and the economy. However, they would make it impossible for sports leagues such as the MLB to exist.

Such laws would prohibit and restrict integral parts of the sport, such as the draft and recruitment of players. MLB players are unionized so that the MLB (representing owners) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) can negotiate a contract called a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The CBA is a set of predetermined terms agreed upon by both sides that determine how the league will function. Usually, they can negotiate terms that create a more level playing field. However, when the two sides cannot come to an agreement, the contract expires, and the players strike, or, in this case, the owners lock them out. In a lockout, all baseball transactions stop, meaning that players are not able to interact with management, use team facilities, or receive pay.

When the existing CBA was extended after the 2016 season, it was clear that both players and owners were only delaying the inevitable conflict. The MLBPA has been warning players to save money for this exact scenario for years now, and the owners have not made any move to budge on their current stances. If it was up to the owners, not much about the latest CBA would likely change. In the most recent set of talks, the owners received essentially all that they wanted, so much so that according to MLBPA lead negotiator Bruce Meyer, they are not even making counter-proposals. Under the recently expired CBA, the MLB made nearly 11 billion dollars in 2019, all while keeping control over the players through means like arbitration and a luxury tax, which acts as a soft salary cap. The owners want to keep making the same kind of money, so they hope the contract stays the same and are not yet willing to negotiate on anything that would get in the way of maintaining its terms.

Going in, the players knew that changing the CBA would be difficult. They want to change just about everything in the current agreement. One of the players’ main complaints is about how service time works. As the agreement is now, teams have six years of control over drafted players before they can go into free agency, and for the last two years, a player moves into arbitration and receives a larger salary. Players, unsurprisingly, would like to be paid more than the bare minimum in their first years. On top of that condition, some teams hold major league-ready players in the minors for longer than necessary just to maintain the maximum level of control over them, something which players have deemed unfair.

The MLBPA, of course, is not perfect. Owners argue that teams with smaller payrolls are struggling to compete already, and giving them less control will not help with that challenge. They also claim that some of the most negative fan reactions are to favorite players leaving for free agency. Both of those points are valid, and three of the last five World Series winners were teams with bottom-half payrolls, making a pretty good counter-argument for the owners, who are not just going to cave.

The owners have won in the past by just waiting the players out, aware that eventually they’ll run out of money and need to play, but the MLBPA is ready for that situation this time. They have not only been warning players to save money, but they have also been saving themselves and will be able to give out reduced paychecks well into the season. As things stand now, it is very likely that the 2022 season is going to be pushed back. The players went on strike for 232 days back in 1994, resulting in a cancellation of the World Series. The 2022 season is not in danger of being canceled just yet, but every day without progress edges closer into that territory. No one wants to miss any games, but with the owners unwilling to compromise and the MLBPA unwilling to cave, everyone is going to lose.