While it didn’t officially commence until midnight on December 1st 2021, we’ve known that Major League Baseball was going to move into lockout for quite some time now. What most folks had thought though, was talks would progress timeously and the 2022 season wouldn’t be significantly affected. However 6 weeks later — albeit punctuated by the holiday break – there’s been very little movement from either MLB or the MLBPA even after their meeting yesterday. Is it time to panic yet? No – but with Spring Training games scheduled to start in 6 weeks, it may be time to start thinking about potential repercussions if the current impasse persists.
It’s fair to say there’s not a lot of love lost between the league and the players’ association at present. The prior two collective bargaining agreements have been heavily weighted in favor of ownership, whilst MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision to cut the 2020 season to 60 games immediately resulted in outrage and lawsuits from MLBPA, as reported by CBS Sports. That’s meant the respective parties are a ways away from common ground. The owners want expanded playoffs, the players want to hit free agency earlier. Players want increased salaries outside of the very top stars, and fewer owners gaming the system by tanking, to the point of proposing revenue share be cut to uncompetitive teams. Ownership – particularly of said teams – are not keen, to say the least. Is the gap wide enough that it could jeopardize the 2022 season starting on time?
Due to Covid, things are taking longer. Visa issues for foreign players are likely to be more complex and time-consuming. Domestic travel for both organizations and fans comes with extra hassle. Supply chain issues mean the Athletics might have to make a decision sooner rather than later about whether they’ll follow the Raiders from Oakland to Vegas, given their lease at the Coliseum ends after the 2024 season and construction of a new stadium will come at a premium of both time and expense. While baseball is somewhat less at risk than, say, basketball from Covid – being both outdoors and played in summer – Omicron has shifted the needle. While thankfully, it seems to be milder than prior variants, it also infects a greater amount of people much faster than previous waves. Would baseball take the cue from the NBA and allow teams to sign multiple micro-term hardship contracts (and where would they get the players if so)?
For the dedicated fan of the game fantasy leagues are an important part of the season. They’re a great way of expanding player knowledge and flexing at the watercooler. For more casual fans, they help maintain interest over the course of a long season, and as such, they’re good for baseball. With sports betting seeping more and more into U.S. culture (and being legalized in more places), a number of major players in the industry have gotten in on the action. Among them, Ladbrokes has proven particularly adept at efficiently listing odds for popular U.S. sports like baseball and college football. As of now however, their MLB section lies bare. The knock-on effect is more than just that a U.S. sports market more used to betting and real money fantasy won’t be able to participate for some time yet – these exchanges provide a great lead-in for sportswriters to assess the chances of organizations and help build anticipation and excitement for the coming season.
In a lockout, players are just that – locked out. They won’t be able to train or rehabilitate injuries at club facilities. Organizations would understandably be keen that they’ve got first-hand knowledge of star players like Tyler Glasnow’s Tommy John surgery recuperation, however progress reports from third parties will be as good as they’re now likely to get. MLB has put a freeze on transactions during the lockout which is likely to frustrate free agents and leave fringe players in a state of uncertainty. On a somewhat darker note, drug testing is liable to be impossible – the last thing the league needs is a PED scandal – and it’s possible some players may be tempted while they’re off-radar.
As noted, it isn’t the stage to panic yet. But with so long away from the negotiating table, America’s favorite pastime might be in danger of letting too much time pass. Fans have been assured that the 2022 season isn’t in any danger. They may appreciate some reassurance in the way of negotiation being at least scheduled.