Major League Baseball locked out the players after the current five-year Basic Agreement between the sides expired at midnight Wednesday night. The sport’s annual Winter Meetings, which had been scheduled to begin next week in Orlando, have also been canceled.
“We came to Texas to make a deal,” Manfred said. “We committed to the process. We made proposals, and it just did not happen.”
Because of that lockout, baseball officials aren’t allowed to contact their own players, who also must work out without guidance and access to club facilities.
The target date to get a deal done is Feb. 15, when pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training. The regular season is slated to open on March 31.
“Simply put, we believe that an off-season lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season,” Manfred said in a statement posted on MLB.com early Thursday morning announcing the action.
“We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time.”
The first baseball labor stoppage since the strike of 1994-95 became a fait accompli as negotiations broke down late that afternoon in Dallas, where the union’s executive council was meeting.
A proposal made Tuesday by the MLB Players Association to lower eligibility for contact arbitration from three years to two, and free agency from six years to five was deemed inadequate by the owners, who chose not to respond. It came after MLB made concessions on the universal designated hitter, marginally increasing the luxury tax threshold, raising the minimum wage, and expanding the playoffs.
“This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive. It’s simply not a viable option,” Manfred said.
The lockout freezes all player movement, including trades and free agent signings, until a new deal is in place, creating a long winter for the nearly 200 free agents who have gone unsigned before the CBA expired. A final flurry of signings Wednesday brought the total amount spent on free agents to over $2 billion since the end of the World Series, “smashing the record by almost four times,” Manfred said.
“This shutdown is a dramatic measure, regardless of the timing,” the union said in a response posted on Twitter. “It is not required by the law or for any other reason. It was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure players.”
The Winter Meetings were scheduled to begin Monday for four days. The meetings, which were held virtually last year because of the COVID pandemic, are typically a hive of activity where general managers discuss trades, and player agents try to sell their unsigned clients to the highest bidder during a week of off-season media coverage. The minor leagues, which are not affected by the lockout, will still stage their portion of the meetings in Atlanta.
The lockout is the ninth work stoppage since the players’ strike of 1972. Most have been resolved within a month and only half resulted in games being canceled.
The most recent strike, which started Aug. 12, 1994, wiped out the rest of that season and the World Series for the first and only time since 1904. The start of the 1995 season was delayed when the owners used replacement players during spring training.
“I don’t think 1994 worked out too great for anybody,” said Manfred, who was an outside counsel for the owners at the time.
It remains to be seen how this work stoppage will work out nearly three decades later.