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MLB Lockout: What Will it Mean for 2022?

By: Spencer Bauer

Major League Baseball has locked out its players for the first time since 1990, after the league and the Players’ Association failed to come to a new agreement. Once the current collective bargaining agreement expired, the league has utilized their management powers to keep their employees, the players, from working until a new deal is reached. This also results in the immediate stoppage of major league free agency and trades between teams, as well as communication between players and team officials. A labor dispute that results in a lockout is not good for anyone involved; especially the fans. What provisions prevented the two sides from agreeing to a new CBA? What will happen now that the players are locked out? Who has the power to end this dispute? And could this current lockout have a serious impact on the 2022 season? It’s far too early to tell, but there are a variety of outcomes that will be on the table in the coming weeks.

The league seems to believe that locking out the players will result in more negotiations and will ultimately lead to a new agreement before spring training begins in March. The league is acting under their employer powers to preserve the economic stability of their business, which allows them, as an employer, to lock out their employees for the sole purpose of bringing economic pressure to bear in support of his legitimate economic position. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred explained, "This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association's vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive. It's simply not a viable option.” Manfred’s statement reinforced the actions of the League; which chose not to respond to the MLBPA’s proposals that involved free agency, salary arbitration and service time restrictions.

On the other hand, the MLBPA argues that this lockout was not necessary and is not required by law. Arguing further that, “it wаs the owners’ decision, plаin аnd simple, designed to coerce Plаyers into relinquishing rights аnd benefits аnd аbаndoning good fаith bаrgаining proposаls thаt would benefit not just the gаme, but the entire industry." The MLBPA is technically correct, but the League, acting as the employer of the players, may lock out their employees to create economic pressure. However, the League has the duty to maintain the status quo of the CBA after it expires, and cannot implement mandatory subjects of collective bargaining without good faith bargaining. The League could be subject to unfair labor practices charges if they were to unilaterally implement changes that affect mandatory subjects of collective bargaining, like wages, free agency and arbitration.

The MLBPA proposed lowering the arbitration eligibility to two years of league service, making players eligible for free agency after six years of service and the implementation of a draft lottery system to deter “tanking” amongst the league’s worst teams. But these proposals were unanswered and a lock out resulted. So now that the players are not allowed to work until a new agreement is signed, what should they do? What can they do? What is likely to happen?

Since this lockout occurred in the off-season and in anticipation of a player’s strike, the players cannot go on strike. There are no current games and players are not currently being paid, so a work stoppage has not technically occurred yet. In order for the players to bring any legal action or initiate a strike, a new CBA is not signed by the beginning of the season and there must be an actual impasse between the players and the league. Is this at all likely? Will we lose games? Most likely not. There is still around three months until players begin to report to training camp and winter meetings must commence, which should be plenty of time for the two sides to implement a new CBA. Baseball fans ought not to worry about this stoppage. Although work stoppages are rather rare in MLB history, they usually result in a new deal where both sides can continue to make money.

Who has the upper hand in bargaining power? The players bring the fans to the games and are the ones actually playing in the games. The players have a tremendous amount of power here since they are highly specialized employees with skills that cannot be replicated by anyone else. Other players could potentially be brought in from other leagues, but will not be at the same level as the average MLB player. However, the Players Association is very unlikely to get everything they desire. The League will likely bend to some of the MLBPA’s proposals, but only enact select parts of them. The new CBA will likely result in a universal DH for both leagues, updated financial systems in free agency and some sort of upgraded salary arbitration system, but the players may not exactly “win” when the new CBA is signed.

The Players Association and the MLB can both agree that they cannot afford to miss any games this season, especially after the COVID-19 Pandemic. Both sides have a heavy economic incentive to compromise, which will likely overcome their desire to get a leg up on the opposition at the bargaining table.

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