The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between MLB and the Players Association will expire at 8:59 p.m. PT on Dec. 1, and if no deal is reached before or sometime soon after, the 2022 season could be delayed by what would be the sport’s first lockout since 1994-95.
That ended up lasting 232 days, and a similar development this offseason would severely impact free agency. Given the animosity between the league and union, there isn’t much optimism that a new deal will be reached in time.
Both sides have not agreed on much in recent years and filed grievances against each other over the shortened 2020 season.
Negotiations are ongoing and have been for some time now with MLB “100% committed” to getting a new deal done before Dec. 1, according to commissioner Rob Manfred. But Manfred also said it’s difficult to evaluate what progress has been made in CBA negotiations.
For the MLBPA, executive director Tony Clark said they are focused on making the game more competitive and allowing players to be better compensated by reaching free agency earlier in their career, per Evan Drellich of The Athletic:
The union is focused on incentivizing competition and getting players paid more earlier in their careers. “Competitive integrity, integrity in the system, competition on any given night, has been the focus, will continue to be the focus,” Clark said.
With the current CBA, an increasing number of teams have been tanking as a way to save money during a rebuild instead of trying to field a competitive roster.
Such a strategy benefits only the team owner and hurts the on-field product. It also limits the number of jobs for veteran players, which in turn ends up cutting their salaries with limited markets for them.
The MLBPA argues this problem could be helped by encouraging teams — whether through the process to determine the draft order, revenue sharing, or some other means — to field competitive rosters instead of trying to tank.
The union would also like to see players paid earlier in their career as the current process gives a club six years of control over before free agency becomes a factor. Included in that is arbitration, during which players can still be underpaid.
The current system hurts all players, but especially those who are late bloomers, such as Los Angeles Dodgers All-Stars Max Muncy and Justin Turner, and New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. The system also encourages teams to hold their players back from making their debut too early in a season so they can essentially get seven years out of them.
The most famous case of that happening is when the Chicago Cubs kept Kris Bryant in the Minor Leagues at the start of the 2015 season and only called him up once he would not be eligible to accrue the necessary amount of service time to count as a year of control.
Despite Bryant playing in 151 games in 2015, he did not receive one year of service time until the following season.
New MLB CBA likely to bring rule changes
Along with the issues of competitiveness and financial compensation, any new CBA agreement is likely to bring rule changes to the sport.
Both rules were in response to uncertainty with attempting to play a season during a pandemic and in effort to protect players. Although the 2021 campaign reverted back to a full schedule, MLB kept with shortened games for doubleheaders and the extra-innings rule.
There is also a long-held expectation the universal designated hitter will be added back after it made its debut in 2020 before being removed this year.
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