Dec 2, 2021 - Sports

What to know about the MLB lockout

Baseball home plate

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Hope you enjoyed the recent flurry of free-agent activity, because it's likely the last non-lockout-related MLB news for a while.

Driving the news: The owners locked out the players after the collective bargaining agreement expired at midnight last night, leading to MLB's ninth work stoppage — and first since 1995.

  • Past work stoppages: 1972 strike; 1973 lockout; 1976 lockout; 1980 strike; 1981 strike; 1985 strike; 1990 lockout; 1994-95 strike.
  • Lockout vs. strike: Either employers withhold work (lockout) or workers withhold services (strike). While neither is ideal, lockouts are far less intrusive. Those five strikes led to 1,720 canceled games. The three lockouts? Zero.

How it works: Everything aside from CBA negotiations is now halted. Contracts can't be signed, injured players can't work with team staff to rehab, zero communication between players and teams.

  • The CBA governs the relationship between the league and players' union, ranging from scheduling and playoff format to payment structure and drug testing.
  • The two sides must now negotiate a new deal before the business of baseball can resume. Neither side will get everything it wants; the question is how much either side is willing to concede.
  • The negotiating table comprises commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, each of their top lieutenants, the eight-player MLBPA executive board and seven owners on the league's labor policy committee.

Where it stands: The disagreements stem from money, and the various ways that money is — or isn't — spent.

  • What the players want: More competitive integrity (tanking and revenue sharing among owners both disincentivize spending); earlier paydays (to ensure prime playing years coincide with prime earning years); no service-time manipulation
  • What the owners want: Mostly, for things to stay the same. MLB set new revenue records for 17 straight years through 2019, while average player salaries have dropped 4.9% since 2016. They'd also like to further pad their wallets with expanded playoffs.
  • Plus: On-field changes, like a universal DH or pitch clock, could also be written into the new CBA.

Between the lines: In the 26 years since the last work stoppage, immense distrust has been sown between the league and players; recently, it's only gotten worse.

  • First came steroids — now it's sign-stealing, sticky stuff and juiced balls. Just this week, MLB admitted to secretly using two different balls last season, per Business Insider (subscription).
  • Add in the months of bad-faith negotiations during the spring of 2020, and it's not hard to understand how we got here.

Go deeper: Everything you need to know about the lockout (ESPN)

Editor's note: The headline has been corrected to reflect that it's not the first lockout since 1995.

Go deeper