In a news conference at the owners’ meetings on Feb. 10, commissioner Rob Manfred said missing games would be a “disastrous outcome” for Major League Baseball. That outcome became reality Tuesday, as the league announced it would cancel the first two series of the regular season after the owners and players were unable to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement by a management-imposed deadline.
For the Phillies, this means they’ll miss their season opener at Houston, which was scheduled for March 31, followed by April 2 and April 3 games against the Astros, and their subsequent two-game series at Washington, on April 4 and 6.
The cancellation of regular-season games will only add to the long list of issues the league and the union will have to tackle before players take the field, including how many games will be played, and how players will be compensated for those games. While the owners had the option to forgo the lockout entirely and continue the season as the two sides negotiated, they instead decided to direct Manfred to lock out the players after the previous CBA expired on Dec. 1.
So, what happens next? Here are some answers to a few of the big questions.
What are the sides furthest apart on — and how far apart are they, exactly?
Among the biggest disparities between the two sides is the competitive-balance (luxury) tax, or CBT, a topic that Phillies fans should be quite familiar with, as owner John Middleton has narrowly skated below that figure for the past few seasons.
In the players’ most recent proposal, the tax thresholds were set at $238 million this year, with raises to $244 million in 2023, $250 million in 2024, $256 million in 2025, and $263 million in 2026. The owners settled on a $220 million threshold in the next three years, before bumping it to $224 million in 2025 and $230 million in 2026.
At least the owners relented on not raising the monetary penalty for surpassing the threshold. The tax rates will remain at the levels of the previous CBA: 20%, 32%, and 62.5%, depending on how far over the bar a team goes.
What are the union’s biggest asks?
In short, getting players paid earlier in their careers, when they are often at their most valuable, and maintaining competitive integrity in the sport by discouraging tanking.
The union dropped its longstanding attempt to make more players with 2-3 years of major-league service (”Super Twos”) eligible for salary arbitration, a non-negotiable item for MLB and the owners.
Instead, the players conceived of a bonus pool to augment the salaries of pre-arbitration players (less than three years of service) based on high performance. The owners agreed to the idea. But the sides differ on the overall value of the pool. They are $55 million apart this year ($85 million vs. $30 million) and $75 million by 2026 ($105 million vs. $30 million).
The players are also seeking raises to the minimum salary, which has lagged behind the NFL, NBA, and NHL in recent years. The owners raised their minimum salary proposal to $700,000 this year, $25,000 less than the players’ request. But the gap grows over the life of the five-year agreement, reaching $64,000 ($804,000 vs. $740,000) by 2026.
Manfred said MLB’s proposal would add “more than $100 million annually in additional compensation for this younger-player group.” The union disagrees with that calculation.
To dissuade tanking, the MLBPA proposed a draft lottery, and the sides were close to an agreement.
What are the owners’ biggest asks?
At the top of the wish list is expanding the playoffs. The owners preferred a 14-team field that would bring in $100 million from ESPN. But after a back-and-forth with the players during a marathon bargaining session that began at 10 a.m. Monday and went until 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, they settled for the players’ 12-team proposal, which will reportedly bring in $85 million.
Manfred also sought a procedural change that would empower him to implement a pitch clock, eliminate shifts, and make other adjustments to improve the on-field product.
Can the players play in other leagues while the lockout is going on?
On Monday, Bryce Harper posted an Instagram story of himself in a Yomiuri Giants uniform, with the caption: “Aye @yomiuri.giants you up? Got some time to kill. I know you got @borascorp number. Let’s talk.” According to a manual distributed to agents by the Players Association before the lockout, which was obtained by The Athletic, locked-out players can indeed play in other leagues. Per the manual: “The PA would challenge any attempts by MLB to interfere with Players who choose to participate in a foreign league during a lockout. During the 2004-05 work stoppage, a large number of NHL Players chose to play internationally.”
But multiple agents said there may be practical concerns. One agent was unsure if a player could have his major-league contract voided if he were to get injured while playing overseas.
When will they negotiate again?
In a news conference Tuesday, Manfred said negotiations were “deadlocked,” adding that Thursday was the earliest the sides could meet. In a separate news conference Tuesday night, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said the players were willing and ready to have the conversation as soon as Wednesday.
What have they agreed on?
In addition to keeping the luxury-tax rates at their present levels, the sides agreed on a universal designated hitter. The players consented to wear revenue-generating commercial patches on their uniforms. The owners consented to drop the draft-pick compensation that was linked to free agents who receive and decline a qualifying offer.
Late Monday, the sides agreed to a framework for the 12-team postseason. But there’s a potential wrinkle. The players threatened to veto expanded playoffs altogether and return to the existing 10-team format if MLB cancels games and withholds their full-season pay. Stay tuned.
How long will teams need from an agreement to the start of the regular season?
Manfred said last month that it would take less than a week for the sides to go from an agreement to opening camps, and that the league would prefer a four-week spring training once an agreement is reached.
Does this affect minor leaguers?
Only if they’re on a 40-man roster and therefore represented by the players’ union. Otherwise, teams will open minor-league spring training this week at their facilities in Florida and Arizona.
For the Phillies, prospects Bryson Stott, Mick Abel, Andrew Painter, Logan O’Hoppe, and Johan Rojas, among others are already in Clearwater, Fla., getting ready for minor-league seasons that will begin in early April. But other Phillies minor leaguers, including Mickey Moniak, Adam Haseley, Luis Garcia, Jhailyn Ortiz, and Hans Crouse, are locked out because they’re rostered on the 40-man.
What happens if they can’t agree to a deal?
Presumably, the lockout would continue and MLB would keep lopping off games, series by series. The doomsday scenario is the 2004-05 NHL season, which was wiped out altogether because of a lockout.