That’s not much of a prediction. The MLBPA and MLB have be supposedly talking for months and are reportedly “still far apart” (ie, have made no significant progress at all. Anyone who watched them fail to get any real agreement last year (when it was in their obvious mutual interest to come up with anything better than the 60 game season they and we ended up with) cannot be at all surprised. The current CBA ends Dec 1. The owners are extremely likely to institute a lockout as of midnight that night.
So, what’s the deal? Money, of course.
Okay, a little more detail. One issue that everyone knows about is the qualifying offer system for free agents. Currently, with some limitations, a team can make a qualifying offer of a one year contract to a pending free agent from their team. If that player turns the offer down and signs elsewhere, the team gets a compensatory draft pick/the signing team loses a pick. Owners live the system; players hate it because it hampers signing except for the truly high end free agents. If I were the players, what I’d try to do: Forget the qualifying offer. Their focus should be on the younger players. Insist upon an end to service time manipulation by having any time a player is called up for more than 10 days in a season count as a year of service time. There can be give on how much time, but not such that delaying a ready player being called up until two weeks after the season starts denies that player a year of service time.
The owners want the universal DH. So do the players. The owners want to use it as a concession though—acting like it’s a thing for which the players should be willing to sacrifice something…even though they want it too. The owners want expanded playoffs, but I haven’t heard what they’ll give to get it.
The owners have proposed keeping player control through age 29. This is one the players absolutely have to be willing to fall on their swords over—no free agency until age 29 means future players who are ready for the majors at 18/19/20 are tied to one team for 10 or more years. The players might as well agree to bring back the reserve clause if they were to agree to that.
The owners have also proposed having a salary floor in exchange for lowering the luxury tax threshold by something like $39M. So far, the only real reaction I’ve heard was players going ape-poop against the salary floor idea, correctly pointing out that goes with a salary cap. I’ll address my thoughts on that below.
The players have long stated salary caps are a nonstarter…but apparently have not noticed the luxury tax threshold is, in fact/practice, a soft salary cap. It’s time they did realize that. It’s also not going away. Instead, they need to read Forbes and realize they are getting a much lower percentage of gross revenues than NFL, NBA, and NHL players do…and insist upon the same 45-50% they get. At that point, they can inform the owners that they can figure out how to do that equitably amongst themselves. MLB owners do not share income with each other to the extent the other leagues’ owners do. If they have to have a salary floor to ensure the Pirates are not paying $40M while the Dodgers pay $400M, that’s on them. The MLBPA also has to insist on independent auditors to ensure ALL MLB-related income (like streaming income is counted) and that payouts to minor leaguers and retired players are not included as part of the players’ portion.
The players also cannot agree on lowering the luxury tax threshold. As I stated, the owners treat it like a soft salary cap. The only reason to lower it right now is as a brazen attempt to make the players pay for more of last year’s losses than they already did by only getting 60/162 of their annual pay. The luxury tax needs to be tied to current year revenues, and subject to the auditors I already mentioned.
Hilariously, Robert Manfred has already essentially said the lockout is happening, because he (the owners) think it will make the players become more reasonable (translate: scared/more likely to cave). There are certainly things where the players should be more flexible (like rule changes, playoff format). However, they must not agree to lowering the luxury tax threshold or allow owners to find a way to extend how long a player has spend before being eligible for free agency. They also need to get positive movement away from service time manipulation.
Until Dec 1, the MLB schedule proceeds as is the CBA is not ending. Trades can happen. Free agent signings will happen. The 40 man rosters will be solidified by Dec 1, as that’s the deadline to protect players from the rule 5 draft too. As of midnight that day, when the lockout occurs, everything stops. No more free agent signings, trades, no winter meetings, no working out in team facilities, nothing.
How long do the sides have until they start screwing up the 2022 season and making baseball fandom angry? About Mar 1 to have the agreement made and ratified by both sides (thus agreement actually made last week of February). That would have the players reporting almost immediately thereafter, starting a roughly 2-week preseason mid-month, and starting the regular as scheduled Mar 31, or soon thereafter. It’d also create a major feeding frenzy of free agent signings in that first couple weeks.
Expect the lockout to happen. Expect zero movement until mid-February. If the owners won’t budge off their positions that pretty clearly are aimed at union busting, the union has better be prepared for a lot of lost season no matter how mad the fans get. Fandom as a whole nearly always sides with the owners. They see it as an argument between two groups of of wealthy people in which one group is only to happy to provide the on-field product if only the “greedy” players would gratefully accept what they are offered. The players have to realize the PR deck is stacked against them, do their best to work against that perception, but press on regardless.