MLB is expected to have first labor stoppage since 1994-95

The Associated Press is reporting that negotiations over the CBA have not come to an agreement with the current agreement set to expire on Dec. 2nd. According to Ronald Blum’s article, the negotiations have been ongoing since this past spring but neither side is happy with the concessions the other has made.

Negotiations have been taking place since last spring, and each side thinks the other has not made proposals that will lead toward an agreement replacing the five-year contract that expires at 11:59 p.m. EST on Dec. 1.

Ronald Blum, Associated Press

At the core of the problems confronting negotiators are the poor conditions for Minor League ball players, a minimum payroll, service time manipulation, and declining average salary. If compromises on these issues cannot be reached, then fans can expect the owners to lock out the players at some point after the current CBA expires; which means that free agency will be delayed as well.

From 2017 to 2020 the average pay has dropped from just under $4.1 million to $3.8 million — with 2021 expected to come in at around $3.7 — despite the fact that revenues had continued to increase for major league clubs prior to the pandemic. The continued drop in annual compensation, combined with the service time manipulation that the clubs have engaged in, has left the players union frustrated. When former Mariners’ CEO Kevin Mather said the quiet part out loud prior to the 2021 season, it gave the union firm ground to stand on and the owners very little wiggle room.

It’s why I was not surprised to see that part of the league’s proposal to the union included eliminating salary arbitration and allowing players to become free agents at 29.5 years old (rather than after six years of major league service). For the owners, it makes sense to try and smooth over service time complaints as quickly and quietly as possible. There is also no reason for the players to be willing to ditch arbitration without significant concessions because it guarantees performance based pay increases in the middle of their rookie deals (even if those raises are minimal at best).

On top of the salary and service time problems are the terrible conditions minor leaguers were forced to live in due to poor pay and inadequate protections from the major league clubs.

Like many of his [Kieran Lovegood] minor league teammates, he’d been supplementing his $500 weekly salary with side gigs, barely making ends meet. He moved from place to place and team to team, subsisting on junk food and sleeping on living-room air mattresses.

Joon Lee, ESPN

While the league has guaranteed that minor leaguers will be provided housing by their parent clubs starting in 2022, there is no guarantee (as of publishing) that the athletes whom make-up the farm system will see an increase in pay. It is also still unclear exactly how the parent clubs will provide housing for the minors; at this point it seems like this is a cheap public relations ploy as it seems like we’re headed to a probable lockout.

The potential for a delayed free agency period and Spring Training is a real problem that is facing Major League Baseball as we close in on December 2nd. But the league and its owners need to make some major concessions for the players to even consider signing a deal.

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