TAMPA, Fla. — A week into February would normally see teams ramping up for the upcoming baseball season. But with pitchers and catchers set to report next week, Major League Baseball remains in a lockout.
If it goes on much longer, the lockout could jeopardize the start of the season. While the lockout is ongoing, the free agency process is frozen, players can't use team facilities, arbitration is delayed, and all league activity essentially shuts down.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have yet to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement, which is the reason for the lockout.
The MLBPA released this statement in December when the lockout started:
“This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the Players’ resolve to reach a fair contract. We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership.”
The last time an MLB season was seriously impacted by labor disputes was during the 1994-95 strike which included the cancellation of the World Series.
The Players Association said it wants to see things like service-time manipulation and tanking addressed, along with getting younger players paid more. Owners are looking to keep things more basically status quo. But the argument all comes down to baseball's revenue-sharing system and what it should look like.
Last week MLB requested federal mediators to assist in negotiations between the two sides, but the Players Association denied the request with the following statement:
Two months after implementing their lockout, and just two days after committing to Players that a counterproposal would be made, the owners refused to make a counter, and instead requested mediation.
After consultation with our Executive Board, and taking into account a variety of factors, we have declined this request.
The clearest path to a fair and timely agreement is to get back to the table. Players stand ready to negotiate.
Major League Baseball responded, calling the rejection "hard to understand.
“Our goal is to have players on the field and fans in the ballparks for Spring Training and Opening Day,” the league spokesperson said. “With camps scheduled to open in less than two weeks, it is time to get immediate assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help us work through our differences and break the deadlock. It is clear the most productive path forward would be the involvement of an impartial third party to help bridge gaps and facilitate an agreement. “It is hard to understand why a party that wants to make an agreement would reject mediation from the federal agency specifically tasked with resolving these disputes, including many successes in professional sports. MLB remains committed to offering solutions at the table and reaching a fair agreement for both sides.”
For now the two sides remain in a stalemate. According to mlb.com, the MLBPA offered to reduce its figure for a pre-arbitration bonus pool from $105 million to $100 million. However, the league had offered to create a $10 million pool -- one which would reward the top performers among the group of pre-arbitration players.
The significant gap in those negotiations makes it seem a deal probably is not imminent.
MLB says the Players Association remains stuck on a pair of key issues: Super Two eligibility -- the union wants all players with two years of service time to be eligible for arbitration, not just the 22 percent with the most service time, as it currently stands -- and a reduction in revenue sharing. MLB has been steadfast from the beginning of negotiations that these two issues are non-starters for the league’s owners.
With every day that passes, it seems less and less likely that pitchers and catchers will report to camp next week as scheduled. In turn it also seems less and less likely that Spring Training will begin on time.
For baseball fans, the hope now is that the two sides can reach an agreement this month so that the regular season is not impacted.