What happens next in baseball's lockout?


Major League Baseball's owner-initiated lockout has now taken regular season games off the schedule. On Tuesday, commissioner Rob Manfred announced the first two series of the season have been canceled after MLB and the MLBPA were unable to strike a deal prior to the league's artificial 5 p.m. ET deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement.

"Today is a sad day. We came to Florida to navigate and negotiate for a fair collective bargaining agreement. Despite meeting daily, there is still significant work to be done," MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said Tuesday. "The reason we are not playing is simple: a lockout is the ultimate economic weapon. In a $10 billion dollar industry, the owners have decided to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have: the players."

This is the first time games have been lost to a work stoppage since 1995 and there are many reasons a deal was not struck in time to save Opening Day. How long the lockout will last and how many regular season games will be sacrificed at the altar of better margins is anyone's guess. Where do MLB and the MLBPA go from here? Let's break that down.

Regroup and schedule another bargaining session

As much as we'd like to lock league and union representatives in a room and not let them out until a deal is reached, that's not how the world works, and the two sides need some time apart to regroup after eight consecutive days of bargaining. Games are being lost and there's a real sense of urgency now, but it can be beneficial to take a step back and clear your head a bit.

"We're prepared to continue negotiations. We've been informed that the MLBPA is heading back to New York, meaning that no agreement is possible until at least Thursday," Manfred said Tuesday. "... The clubs and our owners fully understand just how important it is to our millions of fans that we get the game on the field as soon as possible. To that end, we want to bargain and agree with the Players' Association as soon as possible."

It's unclear when the two sides will meet again but the smart money is on sooner rather than later. It could be as soon as later this week, though given the large gaps that still exist in several core economic matters, I would bet against an agreement being reached in the coming days. Point is, the next step is scheduling another bargaining session after a quick breather. MLB and the MLBPA won't go too long without meeting.

Prepare to fight over 2022 salaries

Manfred said canceled regular season games would not be made up and "our position is games that will not be played, players will not be paid for." The league can not simply withhold pay, however. The length of the season, how much players are paid, and even the schedule itself are workplace conditions subject to bargaining, and the MLBPA intends to fight for full pay in 2022.

"It would be our position in the event of games being canceled -- that as a feature of any deal for us to come back -- that we would be asking for compensation and/or that those games rescheduled," MLBPA chief negotiator Bruce Meyer said Tuesday.  

In 2020, Manfred unilaterally implemented a 60-game season with prorated pay because the MLBPA agreed to those conditions as part of their March agreement amid the pandemic. That was a one-time agreement, however. Manfred doesn't have that authority in perpetuity. MLB and the MLBPA have to agree to 2022 salary terms before the lockout is lifted.

The union does not want a set a precedent allowing the league to simply cancel games and pay players prorated salary -- the owners have given us no reason to believe they won't lock out the players and cancel games each time the collective bargaining agreement expires -- so expect them to dig in and really fight for full compensation.

Come up with ways to improve competitive integrity

For the most part, the lockout is about money. MLB's owners locked out the players because they believe they're getting too big a piece of the pie despite soaring revenues and a declining average player salary. The players are fighting to take back a piece of that pie, undoubtedly, but they also want to improve the game's competitive integrity.

"We've been screaming for years about competition issues. Those are important to us. This is not just about shifting the pieces of the pie around," free agent lefty and MLBPA executive subcommittee Andrew Miller said Tuesday. "A core goal of this negotiation is to increase competition and we're not leaving the table without that."    

Let's not kid ourselves here: MLB's competitive integrity is in the tank. A third of the league isn't trying to contend in any given year, the league lies about the baseball itself, there's a new cheating scandal every season, and all that is happening while MLB gets into bed with gambling partners. How can fans trust what they see on the field?

MLB and the MLBPA discussed a draft lottery that, frankly, won't change the way teams behave (look at the NBA and NHL), as well as measures to curb service-time manipulation. My guess is the MLBPA will come up with a few other ways to limit anti-competitive behavior before the two sides strike a deal. This is a priority item for the union, and it should be for fans too.

Stay ready for spring training

I know it sometimes feels like the lockout will never end, but it could end with a single phone call, and players have to be prepared to report to spring training on short notice. They are all working out somewhere to stay in shape. At home, at a college campus, at a private workout facility, at a high school field, somewhere. Here's Aaron Judge at the University of South Florida last week:

Several weeks ago the MLBPA reached an agreement with D-Bat, a national baseball and softball training facility with over 100 locations across the country, giving any player with at least one day of service time a free membership through Jan. 2023. The union is also running its own training camp at Bell Bank Park in Mesa, Arizona, and may open a second camp in Florida.

The owners can sit back and relax during the lockout. The players have to stay game ready in case the lockout does end, say, tomorrow, and they have to go back to work. Much like player photos disappearing from MLB.com immediately after the lockout, it's a good reminder the sport is nothing without the players, and they're the ones who put in the work to entertain fans.

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