MLB and the MLBPA are planning as if a lockout is a real possibility

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It certainly feels as if MLB’s owners are going to lock the players out when the current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 2. Feeling something doesn’t necessarily make it true, though, but all the same, the reason it feels like a lockout is imminent is because of what we’re seeing in the news relating to collective bargaining over the past couple of weeks.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently went out of his way to try to make a distinction between an offseason lockout and a work stoppage that interferes with games. There is no reason to lay down that kind of foundation unless you’re expecting to have to build on it. That MLB’s economic proposals are so far off the mark from what the players have reportedly been proposing, too — and submitted so close to the deadline, too — certainly makes it feel as if MLB’s goal here is to enact a lockout in the hopes they can weaken the unity and stance of the Players Association.

As I’ve said before, what’s said behind closed doors, at the bargaining table, is all that matters in the end. And with that in mind, we now now have an agreement between the two sides to shift the non-tender deadline from December 2 — the day the current CBA expires — to the evening of November 30, so that, as Ken Rosenthal put it when he reported the news, “arbitration-eligible players will not be in contractual limbo” and would be able to sign with a new club in the small window that opens up between their release and the expiration of the current CBA… and the likely beginning of a lockout.

Rosenthal’s tweet even says that these players would have “the ability to sign with a new club before lockout begins.” Character limits and all that, but that certainly seems worded a specific way that leads you to believe this is expected. Again, none of this means a lockout is absolutely going to happen, but it sure feels like we’re in for the first such work stoppage since 1990, and the first interruption of service of any kind since the strike of 1994-1995.

It took me a bit of time to figure out what it is the players might be gaining here by agreeing to move this deadline around and add a whole bunch of free agents into the mix right before the CBA expires, but I think I eventually landed on something that makes sense. It’s all just about reducing the unknowns as much as possible. Rosenthal mentioned that this “effectively will flood the market with more free agents who might get pressured into lesser deals after lockout ends,” but if there was no change to the non-tender deadline and everything is going into lockdown once the CBA expires — which would happen earlier in the day than the original non-tender deadline — then those players are still going to be in the “contractual limbo”  and on a reduced negotiating schedule once the lockout ends. At least this way, some players might be able to secure a new gig on December 1, as general managers and team presidents scramble to fill some holes before everything shuts down.

Any kind of additional peace of mind that can be given to the membership of the Players Association is a positive heading into a lockout. If too many players are antsy about the fact they don’t know where they’re going to work or live in the coming season, then it might be that much easier to pressure them into taking a lesser deal just so they can put this state of unknowns behind them. Moving the non-tender deadline isn’t liable to significantly reduce the number of players who won’t know where they are playing or reporting to for the 2022 season, no, but if it puts the minds of some veterans at ease, who know exactly what they’ll be making and where once the lockout does end and the season begins, then maybe it reduces the number of little voices inside of players’ heads wondering if the fight they are currently fighting is worth all the unknown factors.

Leaving aside why the agreement was made, though, we’ve got the fact it was made at all. The union and MLB, by putting this together, are at least admitting that a lockout is possible. There hasn’t been one since 1990, and the two sides have rarely come close to not putting together a deal before the expiration of the current CBA since. That there is an admission from both parties that it’s very well a thing that could happen… well, that’s a lot more potentially significant than the actual point of the agreement, no? A lockout might not be a definite, as there is still time for one to be averted, but everything is trending in the direction of a deal not getting done in time, with Manfred making comments that preemptively defend that course of action and both parties agreeing to make changes to the typical offseason schedule because of an offseason that might not be typical at all. I hate to end with any kind of “we’ll just have to see” but, that’s how these things work with one week left to go. So we’ll just have to see, and react from there.

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