Don’t expect a quick resolution to the MLB lockout

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“When will the lockout end?” is kind of an open question at this point. There was very little reason for it to end quickly after MLB’s owners enacted it, no matter how much optimism commissioner Rob Manfred might have publicly displayed in a lockout being a path to a quick resolution of the issues between the clubs and the players. Considering the MLBPA’s reaction to the lockout was basically “this is only going to make us angrier with you, you know” and a bunch of rolled eyes at Manfred’s letter, well, there is even less reason to believe that things are going to be smoothed out in a hurry.

Which is fine, of course, these things should take all the time they need to take in order to sort themselves out, but it is worth noting that we’re in for a long winter. The chances of this being resolved by springtime aren’t necessarily high, and I’m talking the seasonal date there, not the spring training one.

Evan Drellich reported at The Athletic earlier this week that the owners and the players aren’t even going to meet to discuss core economics — i.e., the very things that got the owners invested in locking the players out in the first place — until January of 2022. As for why the delay when there is still plenty of 2021 left before the holidays bring everything to a stop:

But why aren’t the sides locked in a room now, trying to hammer out a deal almost every day this month? People with knowledge of the process said the sides would likely be saying the same things to each other over and over. There’s little compelling them to change their positions at this point (save for the damage of having a sport that’s frozen, but the owners were, clearly, willing to take on that risk).

Again, none of this is surprising, necessarily. What do the two even have to say to each other right now? MLB claims they made the last economic proposal, and did so in Dallas. The players disagree, and seem to be in the right on the matter, since MLB effectively held parts of this supposed economic proposal hostage in exchange for the players blindly dropping a number of their bargainable demands. Not only are the two sides not exactly in a place where they’re going to move forward just yet with economic counter proposals, but they can’t even agree on whose turn it is to get that particular ball moving. It’s probably a good thing they’ll take a month off from these discussions, so that key bit can be worked through.

It’s not like anything would necessarily be productive right out of the gate, either. MLB’s whole plan with the lockout was to pressure the players into accepting lesser terms out of fear that they would (1) not know where they were playing in 2022 thanks to the offseason freeze and (2) be worried about not receiving paychecks for the 2022 season. It’s still December, the lockout just a couple of weeks and change in: do you think the players are feeling even a little bit of pressure yet? Spring training is still nearly two months off, and that’s where, if there is to be any significant progress made in talks in the time before the season begins, we’ll see it happen.


I had two freelance pieces published this week, both on the lockout and collective bargaining. The first of these was at Baseball Prospectus, and focused on some of the conversations that keep popping up around how the value of the contracts with regional sports networks are going to change, and for the worse. It was headlined “MLB’s RSN Risk Shouldn’t Become the Players’ Problem,” and it focused on a couple of things: namely, that MLB always finds a way to both hype up their own potential financial failures in order to justify conservative economic behavior with the players, and to come out the other side with higher revenues than they came into whatever the crisis at hand is.

The other part of this is what Craig Goldstein wrote about last year, when MLB was trying to push all of the pandemic-related risk onto the players and their potential earnings: MLB loves to privatize their profits, and socialize their losses. Concern over the future value of RSN deals is still kind of a whisper at this stage, but there is basically no reason to let it get any louder than that, not when the league already has plans in place to recoup — or even surpass — the kind of money they got from the various RSNs over the last decade-plus. The players should be wary of accepting MLB’s concerns at face value, basically, because all the league will do after agreeing to a deal that caps the players’ compensation in some way is to turn around and introduce a whole bunch of new revenue that the players don’t get to be a part of.

The other piece was at Defector, and focused on how the league’s plan to lock out the players in order to force a resolution is correct, in the sense it will bring things to a head, but probably off the mark in terms of what the actual results are going to be. MLB has locked out the players on three occasions prior to the 2021 edition, and they lost every one. And badly, too, with major changes coming to the entire compensation structure each time, or, at the least, the owners getting nothing that they wanted out of the conflicts.

As said in the piece, it’s vital that the MLBPA also notch a W this time around, both for an improved CBA and to give them a headstart on the labor battle that will come after this one. CBAs don’t last forever, you know, and plenty of today’s angry players can be tomorrow’s angry players, too.

That’s probably it for freelance pieces from me for the rest of the year, since that part of the industry tends to shut down as the holidays approach. I’ll keep at things in the newsletter as usual, as, even with the two sides refusing to meet over core economics for a bit, there is still plenty to analyze on that front.

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