For the first time in 26 years, Major League Baseball was headed for a work stoppage late on Wednesday night.
The league's owners unanimously voted in favor of a league lockout set to go in effect on Thursday, according to Audacy MLB insider Jon Heyman. The exact time the lockout would begin was unclear, but previous reports indicated it would essentially start at midnight ET on Thursday.
The league and players’ union were unlikely to reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement by the 11:59 p.m. ET deadline on Wednesday, resulting in the owners locking out the players.
Because this is in the offseason, the lockout means that all player activity relating to their teams is halted. This means no free-agent signings, no use of team facilities and no contact between a team and player until a new agreement is reached.
Despite activity being halted, teams could still talk to one another and trades could still be agreed upon but not announced until after the lockout ends. Teams cannot talk to agents.
How long the lockout will last is uncertain. A worst-case scenario would mean it extends well into spring training and possibly the start of the season, but that seems unlikely as the two sides have three months to reach a deal before the possibility of missing regular season games comes into question.
But players have an incentive to get a deal done without losing games because that would mean players would begin losing pay, which they sacrificed just two years ago during the pandemic. It is more likely that spring training is delayed, but not lost, and the regular season starts on time.
Among the issues at the center of the negotiations include how service time should be calculated — players want to be paid more earlier in their careers when they are in their prime — and putting some sort of restrictions in place to combat tanking, which players also feel are hurting their value.
Meanwhile, the owners are seeking to make service time aged-based — delaying free agency until they are 29.5 years old — as well as institute a salary floor to prevent teams from bottoming out their payrolls, but that would come with a reduction in the luxury tax ceiling, which is already treated as a cap by most owners.
There are also on-field issues, such as adding the designated hitter to the National League or expanding the postseason to 14 teams. These issues are likely to be used as leverage, or bargaining chips, by each side to get what they want.
The last time there was a work stoppage in Major League Baseball was in 1994, when a players strike in the middle of the season resulted in the loss of the World Series that year.
The strike continued into the early portion of the 1995 season before a deal was finally reached. There has been labor peace in baseball ever since but, hopefully, this time it is resolved without the loss of games.