Major League Baseball began shutting down early Thursday after two meetings on Wednesday left the league and the Players Association stuck in negotiations.
The collective labor agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, prompting Major League Baseball to enter its first hiatus since 1994-95, ending more than 26 years of labor peace.
“Today is a tough day for baseball, but as I’ve said all year, there is a path to a fair settlement and we will find it,” Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. “I have no doubt that the league and the players share a fundamental appreciation for this sport and a commitment to its fans. I remain optimistic that both parties will seize the opportunity to work together and grow, protect and strengthen the sport we love so much.
The work stoppage comes to disrupt one of the busiest dead seasons in years, as a wave of players signed last-minute agreements on Wednesday before their collective labor agreement expired. Over the past month, Major League Baseball teams have committed more than $1.7 billion in free agent contracts and an additional $500 million in contract extensions.
Any additional signatures will have to wait until a new collective bargaining agreement is signed, during which transactions within Major League Baseball — which include all players who make up the 40-team roster per team and others who are considered members of the league — are not allowed to lock. (Transactions within small associations allowed) Union and team members are also prohibited from communicating with each other until a new collective bargaining agreement is signed.
This week’s meetings in Irving, Texas, saw very little progress between the two sides. Wednesday’s session ended earlier than planned, about eight hours before the collective labor agreement expired.
The MLB and MLBPA met for 45 minutes on Wednesday morning. Then, after the conversations were suspended for a moment, they met again to continue their conversations. According to various sources, the association attended the second meeting with the idea of breaking the impasse and offering a direct path by setting aside some issues between the two parties. They were quickly dismissed by the Assembly, ending the meeting after only seven minutes.
The two parties did not meet again on Wednesday, which prompted the association to decide to implement the closure.
“This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the players’ desire for a fair contract,” MLBPA CEO Tony Clark said in a statement. “We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our members.”
The association’s primary goal was a major revamp of the sport’s economic system, including three key components that had been part of the collective bargaining agreement for decades: free agency after six years of service, Super Two eligibility, and profit sharing.
According to multiple sources, MLB proposals submitted last week included a series of player concessions that included an NBA-style lottery draft, a specific global hitter, an increase in player minimum wages and an increase to the competitive credit tax limit, as well as the abolition of the qualifying bid system, which would Eliminates offsetting draft choices for all free agents.
MLB also offered a 14-team post-season format that would have raised the competitive balance tax threshold from $210 million to $214 million, eventually reaching $220 million. The association’s latest bid, which initially requested $248 as a minimum competitive balance tax, was reduced to $245 million, leaving a fairly wide gap between the two parties.
The federation also came up with two ideas to expand the post-season to 12 teams, one of which involved a reorganization that would create two divisions in each league – one with eight teams and one with seven.
“Let’s be clear: This difficult but important step does not necessarily mean canceling the Games,” Manfred wrote in his letter. “In fact, we are taking this step now because it is accelerating the urgency of reaching an agreement with the longest possible timeframe to avoid damaging the 2022 season.”