CLEVELAND — At 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning, Major League Baseball commenced a lockout of its players after failing to come to terms during negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, marking the first work stoppage the league has seen since the 1994-95 season and the first lockout since 1990.
With the lockout in order and everything MLB at a grinding halt, there are several implications for Cleveland's team as MLB and MLBPA remain at an impasse.
Roster moves and transactions
Under the lockout, MLB teams are not permitted to make any 40-man roster transactions.
The means all free-agent players not signed to a roster at the time being will not be able to do so until a new CBA is agreed upon. It also means that contract extensions and negotiations, waiving players, releasing players, optioning players and trading players can not occur. Teams will not be permitted to communicate with players, nor will players be permitted to seek injury treatment or rehab from team physicians.
Additionally, the lockout puts the Major League Rule 5 Draft, which allows teams without a full 40-man roster to select certain non-40-man roster players from other clubs, and salary arbitration, on hold.
In Cleveland, there are seven players facing arbitration—Shane Bieber, Franmil Reyes, Amed Rosario, Bradley Zimmer, Cal Quantrill, Austin Hedges and Josh Naylor. The Guardians tendered all seven players' contracts but none had signed.
With none of the players signing and the lockout now in effect, negotiations between all seven players and the organization have been forced to end and can not resume until a new CBA is agreed upon. Whether that gives the team and players enough time to come to an agreement may impact how many of the negotiations will end up heading to the arbitration panel and increasing the number of arbitration hearings the Guardians have on their plate.
Injuries and rehabbing
There are several players who are working to come back from injury in the 2022, a task that requires trainers and equipment to ensure a full recovery. During the lockout, players are prohibited from not only working with team coaches and trainers, but from sharing updates or receiving feedback from them.
That means several Guardians players, such as Josh Naylor and Tyler Freeman, will have to do their rehabbing entirely away from the team. Naylor is working through a dislocated right ankle that required surgery in July, while Freeman is rehabbing after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder was performed in August.
While many players rehab away from the facilities during the offseason anyway, it makes it much more difficult for teams to get a feel for the players' progress when they are unable to discuss it in any way at all, and it makes it harder for a player to get the results a team is looking for specifically when deciding on a timeline for return from injury.
It also impacts Cleveland players who are not yet in the Majors but part of the 40-man roster and unable to rehab at the team's facilities or with staff. Players like Carlos Vargas, who had Tommy John surgery in April, and Nolan Jones, who had surgery to stabilize a high ankle sprain.
This is an area that the Cleveland Guardians might be impacted by more so than any other team in the league.
During the lockout, players are unable to appear at team events or participate in team programming on any broadcast, media channels or social media.
That means, for a team that has just launched a new name, logos and merchandise—no players can be used to promote the rebrand until a new CBA is launched.
For Cleveland in particular, not being able to use the players in the recently launched rebranding push is less than ideal. No images or videos of players in the new gear can be created or promoted. No social media content can be shared. The launch, aside from generic images of hats in the team shop and jerseys on hangers that will be the main source of branding for the time being, has come to a halt alongside the MLB and MLBPA's negotiations. Additionally, all team websites and MLB's league-wide website was wiped of any photos or videos depicting active players. Names of even the biggest baseball stars were also removed.
What are the key issues?
Economics, economics and, oh yeah, economics.
Specifically, how long teams can control new players and when those players might be able to seek free agency. Since 1976, players have been able to enter free agency after six years of major league service. The players' union has proposed reducing that service time requirement while team owners have been adamantly opposed.
Additionally, the players' union is also seeking for players to be eligible for arbitration after two years of service instead of the current three.
MLBPA has publicly voiced its displeasure in recent years over the growing number of teams sending veterans to other clubs or letting them walk in free agency in favor of constant rebuilding, which has been described by some players as 'tanking.' Meanwhile, small to mid-market teams have been able to compete with major market teams and their large payrolls by being able to control young, talented players before they are eligible for free agency.
Fans have noticed the disconnect too.
"Teams will manipulate service time and get [players] only in their prime years and just pay for that and move on," said Stephen Shell, a Reds fan who recently moved to Cleveland. "If the owners really want to scream and shout that they are out of money, open up your books and show everybody. Look, their net worth is already in the couple of billions of dollars. Are we really screaming because a player wants to make a fair shake, comparatively?"
When will it end and what will the impact be?
MLB and the MLBPA met for 45 minutes on Wednesday, took a break and ended the second session in just seven minutes. Another meeting was not held, and the league commenced the lockout.
In order for the lockout to end, both sides have to come to an agreement and one side, the other, or both, will have to make compromises on their demands in order to come to terms on a new CBA and end the lockout.
“This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the Players’ resolve to reach a fair contract. We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership," said MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark in a statement.
Discussions regarding free agency, a universal designated hitter, salary increases and a salary floor, revenue sharing and postseason format changes are all topics of discussion in the negotiations, whenever they begin again.
While it remains to be seen how long the lockout will go, MLB insists it is working hard to ensure their action to commence the lockout does not disrupt the start of the 2022 season or Spring Training.
Jonathan Ernest, a sports economist and associate professor of economics at Case Western Reserve University, said the economic implications of the lockout — and the pressure on both sides to end it — will only increase the longer the lockout goes on.
"In 1994 when we didn’t play half the season, demand did fall it and it took a while for it to claw back and get some of those viewers and attention back," Ernest said. "The closer we get to the season, the much more pressure will come down. That will start to ramp up with spring training and things but it will really kick in as we get closer to what would be Opening Day."
If the lockout were to creep into Spring Training and the start of the regular season, the loss of ticket and merchandise sales, along with revenue shortfalls in other ancillary businesses, will undoubtedly impact team owners' bottom lines. Shortly thereafter, players will soon be pinched by the missing paychecks—while many casual fans will pit the lockout as billionaires vs. millionaires, despite the overwhelming majority of players making well under $1 million per year. The league minimum is $570,000.
"They're making $500,000 a year, which is a lot more than the average individual for sure. But comparatively to a multi-billion dollar owner who wants to save money for a 20-year-old that has worked their entire life to reach the American dream? Shame on them," Shell said. "It’s honestly a disservice to the fans. The Guardians right here could have a better organization if the [owners] were willing to spend more money. I’m not even a Cleveland fan — I grew up a Reds fan — but if the Guardians did that, they would gain a fan out of me."
In a letter issued shortly after the lockout began, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the lockout was a necessary maneuver that's commonly used in labor disputes.
"We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. 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," said Commissioner of Baseball Robert Manfred in a letter. You can read it in it's entirety below:
To our Fans:
I first want to thank you for your continued support of the great game of baseball. This past season, we were reminded of how the national pastime can bring us together and restore our hope despite the difficult challenges of a global pandemic. As we began to emerge from one of the darkest periods in our history, our ballparks were filled with fans; the games were filled with excitement; and millions of families felt the joy of watching baseball together.
That is why I am so disappointed about the situation in which our game finds itself today. Despite the league’s best efforts to make a deal with the Players Association, we were unable to extend our 26 year-long history of labor peace and come to an agreement with the MLBPA before the current CBA expired. Therefore, we have been forced to commence a lockout of Major League players, effective at 12:01am ET on December 2.
I want to explain to you how we got here and why we have to take this action today. Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season. We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. 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. From the beginning, the MLBPA has been unwilling to move from their starting position, compromise, or collaborate on solutions.
When we began negotiations over a new agreement, the Players Association already had a contract that they wouldn’t trade for any other in sports. Baseball’s players have no salary cap and are not subjected to a maximum length or dollar amount on contracts. In fact, only MLB has guaranteed contracts that run 10 or more years, and in excess of $300 million. We have not proposed anything that would change these fundamentals. While we have heard repeatedly that free agency is “broken” – in the month of November $1.7 billion was committed to free agents, smashing the prior record by nearly 4x. By the end of the offseason, Clubs will have committed more money to players than in any offseason in MLB history.
We worked hard to find compromise while making the system even better for players, by addressing concerns raised by the Players Association. We offered to establish a minimum payroll for all clubs to meet for the first time in baseball history; to allow the majority of players to reach free agency earlier through an age-based system that would eliminate any claims of service time manipulation; and to increase compensation for all young players, including increases in the minimum salary. When negotiations lacked momentum, we tried to create some by offering to accept the universal Designated Hitter, to create a new draft system using a lottery similar to other leagues, and to increase the Competitive Balance Tax threshold that affects only a small number of teams.
We have had challenges before with respect to making labor agreements and have overcome those challenges every single time during my tenure. Regrettably, it appears the Players Association came to the bargaining table with a strategy of confrontation over compromise. They never wavered from collectively the most extreme set of proposals in their history, including significant cuts to the revenue-sharing system, a weakening of the competitive balance tax, and shortening the period of time that players play for their teams. All of these changes would make our game less competitive, not more.
To be clear: this hard but important step does not necessarily mean games will be cancelled. In fact, we are taking this step now because it accelerates the urgency for an agreement with as much runway as possible to avoid doing damage to the 2022 season. Delaying this process further would only put Spring Training, Opening Day, and the rest of the season further at risk – and we cannot allow an expired agreement to again cause an in-season strike and a missed World Series, like we experienced in 1994. We all owe you, our fans, better than that.
Today is a difficult day for baseball, but as I have said all year, there is a path to a fair agreement, and we will find it. I do not doubt the League and the Players share a fundamental appreciation for this game and a commitment to its fans. I remain optimistic that both sides will seize the opportunity to work together to grow, protect, and strengthen the game we love. MLB is ready to work around the clock to meet that goal. I urge the Players Association to join us at the table.
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