When baseball’s owners voted to lock out the players upon the Dec. 1 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred cast the move as necessary to help spur renewed negotiations after months of stalled talks.
“Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season,” Manfred wrote. “We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time.”
Since then there has been virtually no progress made towards an agreement. In fact, when the two sides sit down on Thursday it will be the first time they’ve engaged since the lockout began.
Jumpstart the negotiations? So far all the lockout has accomplished is putting the entire sport on ice.
Regardless of their stated intentions, everyone on both sides knows a deal isn’t getting done until the last possible moment. The two sides are far apart on the most important core economic issues, and neither side will have an incentive to budge until mid-February, when spring training is threatened and real money is on the table.
So with that being the case, why did the owners bother imposing a lockout at all?
Since the lockout began, there has been virtually no baseball news, as free agency, trades and player movement in general have come to a complete standstill. That lack of visibility is damaging to the sport, and as the MLB Players Association noted in its response to the lockout, the owners weren’t under any legal obligation to shut the sport down.
Why not just continue negotiating while operating under the expired CBA? If the sides were still far apart by February, impose the lockout then. There would have been some issues to iron out but nothing the league couldn’t have overcome.
The answer, unfortunately, is that if it were that simple the two sides probably would have agreed to a new CBA months ago.
Today, the relationship between the owners and players is frequently described as toxic, and it’s evident that neither expects the other to act in good faith absent significant pressure. That dynamic is part of why the two sides failed to agree on a length for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and why talks dragged on so long that games didn’t begin until late July.
That 60-game campaign was significantly shorter than it needed to be and a bad outcome for all involved, but those failed talks set the tone for this year’s CBA negotiations. That should be an ominous sign for anyone who hopes to see a deal reached before spring training is impacted.
So why did the owners implement a lockout? To assert themselves over the players, to maintain a posture of control and to use the greatest labor weapon at their disposal before the players had a chance to turn the tables by going on strike.
It didn’t have to be this way, but the owners and players are ready for war, even if that means allowing fans and the sport itself to become collateral damage.