October 2, 2022

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MLB lockout: Five takeaways as Rob Manfred cancels regular season games after owners, MLBPA fail to reach deal

After an extension of Monday’s informal deadline, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association were unable to strike a new collective bargaining agreement that would end the owner-imposed lockout on Tuesday. MLB, which set a 5 p.m. ET deadline for a deal, made what it called its “best and final offer” Tuesday afternoon, which was unanimously rejected by the union. Soon thereafter, commissioner Rob Manfred announced in a press conference that regular season games will be canceled. 

“I had hoped against hope I wouldn’t have to have this press conference where I am going to cancel some regular season games,” Manfred said. “We worked hard to avoid an outcome that’s bad for our fans, bad for our players, and bad for our clubs. Our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party.”  

Manfred added the first two series of the 2022 season will not be played as scheduled. Opening Day was originally scheduled for Thursday, March 31, and has been pushed back at least one week. Manfred laughed and joked his way through part of Tuesday’s press conference and it was not lost on the players.

“Today is a sad day. We came to Florida to navigate and negotiate for a fair collective bargaining agreement. Despite meeting daily, there is still significant work to be done,” MLBPA executive Tony Clark said Tuesday. “The reason we are not playing is simple: a lockout is the ultimate economic weapon. In a $10 billion dollar industry, the owners have decided to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have: the players.”

The MLBPA issued the following statement Tuesday evening:

Rob Manfred and MLB’s owners have cancelled the start of the season. Players and fans around the world who love baseball are disgusted, but sadly not surprised.

From the beginning of these negotiations, Players’ objectives have been consistent — to promote competition, provide fair compensation for young Players, and to uphold the integrity of our market system. Against the backdrop of growing revenues and record profits, we are seeking nothing more than a fair agreement.

What Rob Manfred characterized as a “defensive lockout” is, in fact, the culmination of a decades-long attempt by owners to break our Player fraternity. As in the past, this effort will fail. We are united and committed to negotiating a fair deal that will improve the sport for Players, fans and everyone who loves our game.  

“They set a deadline here. We’re willing to stay here and have a conversation tomorrow,” Clark said. “We’re willing to fly back to New York. We’re willing to go wherever we need to go to get back in the room and continue the dialogue that has begun.”

Tuesday marked the three-month anniversary of the lockout, and the next step is uncertain. Manfred said the two sides will regroup at some point and continue negotiations, though “no agreement is possible until Thursday.” In all likelihood, MLB and the MLBPA will wait at least a few days before scheduling their next bargaining session.

“If it was solely within my ability or the ability of the clubs to get an agreement, we’d have an agreement,” Manfred, who often touts his deal-making ability, said Tuesday. “The tough thing about this process is we have to get an agreement from both parties.”

Representatives from both sides arrived on site in Jupiter, Florida, around 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday. They met face-to-face for the first time around 1:30 p.m., after the players had a conference call to discuss their proposal, per The Athletic’s Evan Drellich. Although optimism prevailed following Monday’s marathon 16-hour bargaining session, Tuesday occasioned a step back.

MLB originally created a Monday (Feb. 28) deadline to reach an agreement before canceling regular-season games. CBS Sports has provided a timeline of the lockout here, but the short version is owners placed the padlocks on when the previous CBA expired on Dec. 1. They were under no obligation to do so, yet it was labeled as a “defensive” maneuver. The league then waited more than six weeks to make its first proposal. 

Here are five takeaways now that Tuesday’s owner-imposed deadline has come and gone.

1. Regular season games will be missed

To reiterate, Opening Day will be delayed and regular season games will be missed now that MLB’s informal deadline has passed. It will be the first time baseball has lost regular season games to a work stoppage since the 1994-95 players’ strike. A total of 90 games have been canceled thus far.

“So what’s next? The calendar dictates that we’re not going to be able to play the first two series of the regular season, and those games are officially canceled,” Manfred said Tuesday. “… Our position is games that will not be played, players will not be paid for.”

It should be noted the length of the season, how players are paid, and the schedule itself are workplace conditions subject to bargaining between MLB and the MLBPA. Manfred does not get to unilaterally declare players will not be paid for games missed. In 2020, the union gave Manfred that power under their March Agreement amid the pandemic, but that was a one-time move.

“It would be our position in the event of games being canceled — that as a feature of any deal for us to come back — that we would be asking for compensation and/or that those games rescheduled,” MLBPA chief negotiator Bruce Meyer said Tuesday.  

2. Expanded postseason may be off the table

MLB and the MLBPA reportedly agreed to the framework of an expanded 12-team postseason field on Monday, though the union had previously warned they would not agree to an expanded postseason if players are not paid their full salaries in 2022. Now that regular season games (and potentially salary) will be missed, MLB may have to wait for an expanded postseason.

It’s important to note MLB could agree to pay the players their full salary for a shortened season, in which case the union would likely agree to an expanded postseason field. After all, the players stand to benefit from an expanded postseason too. More postseason games equals more ticket and gate revenue, and that equals a larger postseason pool for players.

For now, expect to make the MLBPA make good on its threat to pull an expanded postseason off the table now that regular season games will be missed. That isn’t to say the two sides can’t reach an agreement that expands the postseason, just that the union is likely to dig in and play hardball with this lucrative item.

3. MLB is trying to deflect blame

If you’ve paid attention throughout the lockout, you may have noticed MLB invariably describes their proposals as “productive” while portraying the MLBPA’s offers as going backwards or overreaching. The league carefully plays the PR game and that was true again late Monday night, then they claimed the two sides were close to a deal while the union cautioned they were still far apart.

“We’ve also been clear and consistent that there are major issues on which we’re very far apart,” Meyer said. “That hasn’t changed. There have been and still are major issues.”  

Then, after receiving the MLBPA’s proposal on Tuesday, the league claimed the players had a “decidedly different tone today and made proposals inconsistent with the prior discussions.” It was a transparent attempt to shift the blame for the lockout — the lockout started and continued by ownership — to the players in the court of public opinion. The players were understandably not happy.

Player agent Allen Walsh explained NHL commissioner Gary Bettman used the same tactics in 2005, claiming the two sides where close to an agreement in an effort to pressure the players to accept a deal, even after the 2004-05 NHL season was canceled. 

The entire MLB season hasn’t been canceled yet, though it’s clear MLB is trying to deflect blame toward the players. Ultimately, the owners chose to lock out the players, chose to wait 43 days to make their first offer, and chose to set artificial deadlines on Monday and Tuesday. This was (and still is) avoidable, but instead, games will be missed because the owners and Manfred say so.

4. MLB is barely budging on luxury tax thresholds

Perhaps the single biggest issue on the table is the competitive balance tax (i.e. luxury tax), or baseball’s soft salary cap. MLB backed off its proposal for increased penalties within the last 48 hours, though the sides remained very far apart on the thresholds. Here is each side’s final luxury tax threshold proposal:

2022

$220 million

$238 million

2023

$220 million

$244 million

2024

$220 million

$250 million

2025

$224 million

$245 million

2026

$230 million

$263 million

The luxury tax threshold was $210 million in 2021. MLB proposing zero increase in 2023 and 2024 is an unserious offer given how much additional revenue the league is set to rake in through an expanded postseason and the new national television contracts that kick in this year (assuming baseball is played). “A slap in the face,” one player told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.

MLB and the MLBPA are still a ways apart on other matters — there’s a $55 million gap in the new pre-arbitration bonus pool and a $25,000 gap in minimum salary — though those gaps have been considered more bridgeable than the luxury tax threshold. MLB revenues have increased on average eight percent a year since 2002, and their proposed luxury tax threshold increase from 2022-26 is 4.5 percent total.

“It’s important to look at the patterns of CBT increases over the last several agreements,” Manfred said Tuesday, though those patterns are what the union takes issue with because the threshold has not increased at the same rate as revenue.

5. MLB did not issue a ‘last, best offer’

MLB described Tuesday’s offer as their “best and final offer,” not their “last, best offer,” and there’s an important distinction. “Last, best offer” is a phrase management uses before declaring a legal impasse, and an impasse would allow MLB to unilaterally implement Tuesday’s offer.

“We never used the phrase ‘last, best final offer’ with the union,” Manfred said Tuesday. “We said it was our best offer prior to the deadline to cancel games. Our negotiations are deadlocked right now, but that’s different than using the legal term ‘impasse,’ and I’m not going to do that right now.”

In the event Manfred declares an impasse, the MLBPA would undoubtedly respond by filing an unfair labor practices charge, and the National Labor Relations Board could issue a complaint for failure to bargain in good faith. An impasse would lead to the two sides winding up in front of a judge, essentially.

For now, Manfred has not taken the necessary steps to declare a legal impasse, instead saying the owners “like the keep the idea that we are willing to go back to the table and make an agreement.”

CBS Sports provided live updates of Tuesday’s talks below.