How and why the next MLB season might not happen.

Ronnie Lord

Staff Writer

     America’s Pastime is canceled. At least for now, as the MLB has begun its first lockout in nearly three decades.

     On December 1st at 9pm, Major League Baseball went on a lockout. After a few brief meetings in New York between team owners and player representatives, a contract between the two parties couldn’t be reached. In these meetings, lasting less than 20 minutes each, owners refused to meet demands from player reps, or the MLBPA (MLB Players Association).

     A lockout is a strike for professional sports players. When the CBA, or Collective Bargaining Agreement, doesn’t get renewed the whole sport goes on hold. Operations involving anyone in a players union, such as the MLBPA, stop. The NBA, NHL, and NFL have had lockouts in the last 10 years, so they aren’t too uncommon. 

     So with the lockout ongoing, no baseball operations can be done. The frantic free agency period, where players get to sign with new teams or renew their contracts, typically lasts from the end of the World Series in November to the beginning of Spring Training. It only lasted one month this year. The week before the lockout, over 500 transactions occurred in the span of a month.

     Depending on how long this lasts, it can lead to a shortened season or, in the worst case scenario, the cancellation of the 2022 season. An MLB season has never been fully canceled, but the last time a lockout occurred in 1994, almost a third of the season was lost and the playoffs were canceled.

     Minutes after the lockout began, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred released “A Letter to Baseball Fans” on Twitter. In the letter, Manfred says that starting the lockout now is in everybody’s best interest, and that his goal is to have a full 2022 season.

     Around the same time, the MLBPA called the lockout a “dramatic measure” and said it was “the owners’ choice, plain and simple.” 

     The MLBPA is made up of current and former players who protect players rights. The MLBPA is also unhappy that the owners never made a fair counter offer. Manfred claimed that a counteroffer was made, but the MLBPA said that the offer had cut many important items from their list of demands. During current contract negotiations, the MLBPA demanded a restructuring of the free agency system, a change in the arbitration system, alongside making contracts shorter.

     The MLB has one of the weirdest free agency systems in professional sports, mainly because no salary cap exists. A salary cap is a limit on the amount of money teams can spend on player salaries. This keeps competition fair, as some teams bring in more money than others.

     But because there is no limit on team spending in baseball, teams can seem unfair just because one is richer than another. In 2021, the Los Angeles Dodgers had five All-Star players, while the division rival San Francisco Giants had only 3. The Giants ended the season with a better record than the Dodgers, but lost to them in the playoffs.

     The other unique thing baseball has is arbitration. Arbitration means that players can’t enter free agency until they have played in the big leagues for 3 years. This is in place due to how the minor league system works in baseball. While basketball and hockey only have one league below pro, baseball has 3, and sometimes more. They use this system to let players prove they belong on a major league team and deserve to fight for a contract. However, minor league baseball players are some of the most underpaid workers in the United States because they don’t have to abide by the American minimum wage. 

     Arbitration is controversial because some teams abuse it to keep players from entering free agency. The most notable case of this in recent years happened to All-Star Kris Bryant. The team he was drafted by, the Chicago Cubs, kept him in the minor leagues for an extended period of time even though he had been dominating in the minors and deserved to be in the majors. But because the Cubs kept him in the minors, his arbitration period was extended by over a year. This kept Bryant from finding a better contract for himself for nearly 4 years after he came up from the minors. The Cubs faced no punishment for this either. Bryant ended up being traded to the San Francisco Giants in the summer of 2021 and is now exploring his free agency options for the first time in his career.

     The owners want to keep these systems in place because it makes them more money and lets them keep their young star players, but if the owners want a season to happen, they have to make an agreement with the players. 

     Fans will have to wait at least a month for news as negotiations don’t seem to be taking off, and probably won’t until January since owners don’t seem to be in a hurry, as no meetings have occurred since the writing of this article.

 An empty Oracle Park in San Francisco, where the Giants play. If a contract isn’t decided soon, this will be a common sight.

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