There’s a quote by Baseball HOF second baseman and lSt. Louis Cardinal great Rogers Hornsby. It goes “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” I wish I could have been quoted with that because I feel that on so many levels Mr. Hornsby.
So here we are, winter. The 2021 MLB season has concluded, and amazingly we were able to play a normal 162 game schedule. The Atlanta Braves are your World Series champions. We witnessed the emergence of many young and exciting talents in the game. Austin Riley, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Tyler O’Neill, Corbin Burns, and the legendary performance of Shohei Ohtani. Also, this winter happens to be one of the most enticing free agency classes as well. It should be an exciting time for baseball and baseball fans everywhere with a fun, active offseason, and normal one too. Right?
Except there’s one thing. The MLB collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is coming to an end and the MLBPA and MLB are nowhere near a new agreement. The CBA is a negotiated accord that governs almost every aspect of the working relationship between MLB players and team owners. No new CBA, at least in conditional fashion, means owners will force a work stoppage. For the first time since the 1994-1995 season, they’ll do so in the form of a lockout.
What is a lockout? Well besides a forthcoming wave of depression for myself and millions of other baseball nerds, a lockout comes from the owners and is when the owners refuse to allow work. There will be no baseball or any MLB-related activities until a new CBA is agreed upon and in place. So remember this is a lockout, not a strike.
Why is this happening? There is a mountain of reasons the expiring CBA has reached the deadline without an agreement on a new deal. Let’s circle in on three I expect to be addressed the heaviest:
- The game has changed more in the last 5-10 years than it has in probably the last 50. With that being said the last CBA agreement was signed in 2016. Think about it like a cellphone. Cellphone technology has changed more in the last 5-10 years than in the last 50 years. Why would you continue to use the same phone you have been using for the same purposes and reasons, and in the same ways if it doesn’t make the sense anymore. There can be a better match. The two sides need to look at what’s best for growing the game and cherishing what’s good about the game instead of trying to continue to change it on the fly. This is their chance to do such and they want to get it right. MLB nor its players want a rule change in the middle of the season again, like what happened in 2021 when umpires were required to check pitchers’ equipment before and during the games.
- The two sides are way off when it comes to their money and revenue right now. Basically starting since the 2011 CBA and subsequent 2016 CBA, Incremental gains made by ownership – a hard slotting system for draftees, onerous draft-pick penalties for signing free agents, and/or exceeding the luxury tax – put governors on spending from the time players sign as amateurs through their prime earning years. As a result, even as revenues increase annually, the average player salary has fallen every year since 2017. For example, Kris Bryant, former third baseman for the Chicago Cubs won the 2015 rookie of the year in the national league. Bryant put up numbers like a .858 OPS, 26 hr’s, and a 6.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). He was the promised one in Chicago, and he delivered. His salary in 2015: $507,500. Now I know you may be saying “I’d take $500,000+ to play baseball” and you might be right, I just may as well, but Andrew McCutchen that same year had a very comparable .895 OPS, 23 HR’s, and a 4.1 WAR. His Salary 8.5 Million. In 2016 Bryant followed it up by posting an amazing 7.7 War (3rd in MLB), winning the NL MVP and leading the Cubs to their first World Series in over 100+ years. His Salary, $650,000. Players are unhappy and justifyingly so. There should be a better system for players to earn what they feel they are deserved, and teams shouldn’t be able to manipulate player service time, or rosters, preventing players from a bonus or incentive that was built into a contract. Here is a wonderful read on that. Players want easier access to free agency as well, not to be trapt in years of arbitration.
- Competition and growth of the game. This ties into the two above as well as many other reasons. Baseball has a tanking problem and a competition problem. There are some teams that seemingly are always in the running for the post-season or a championship. We all know who they are. The Dodgers, Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, Giants, Braves…There are also teams that seem to act like at times they don’t want those same accolades and awards. The Rockies, Pirates, Marlins, Indians, Orioles, and Mariners to name a few. Think to yourself, yes these teams have had their moments of success in the past 20 years or so, but would you be happy as a fan if you knew year in and year out that your team would not even be fielding the most competitive team possible? Isn’t the point to win? When I think of some of these teams I think of all the players that have left them. The teams that could have been. The Tampa Bay Rays have been to the postseason every year since 2017, yet only have a player salary of 71 Million (MLB Rank:22) and are flirting the idea of splitting their home games in Montreal. The state of Iowa hosted the widely popular and smashing hit of a game that was the Field of Dreams game on August 12th, 2021, yet if you live in Iowa you cannot watch the Cubs, Cardinals, White Sox, Brewers, Twins, or Royals. WHY?! Baseball needs to help fix that and incentivize teams to go for it more and discourage tanking and rebuilding. Grow your game MLB.
When can we expect a resolve?
The short answer is I don’t know. No one really does. The most recent chatter was that there was some traction on talks of most recent in Dallas between the two parties. This could have been one of the reasons as to why there was so much free agent action over the holiday weekend. Both sides want clarity, to their roster, living location, spring training location, kids’ schools, houses, finances, careers, everything. Some players like Steven Matz chose to take control in their own hands for clarity by going to the GM meetings to meet with teams to help speed up the process with such uncertainty coming .”With the kind of the situation we have looming, with us here, definitely, talking with my wife Taylor, we wanted to have some certainty on where we’re going to be,” Matz said of attending the GM Meetings. Matz signed a 4 year/ 44 Million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals over the Thanksgiving weekend. Other players and teams are waiting for the light at the other side of this. But prepare for silence. Some ugliness, maybe name-calling, then silence. It could be only a few weeks, a month, or more. I predict that baseball will find a way to work this out before February 1st. I hope. After a shortened 2020, and a waning growth and connection to its fans MLB cannot afford to have another lost season and moment in time.
Where can you find me?
Here, Staring out the window, waiting for Spring…and a new CBA agreement.