As expected, the owners voted unanimously last night to lock out the players once the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. Eastern on December 1, 2021. This is the first work stoppage since the 1994-95 strike that resulted in the 1994 World Series being canceled.
In the interest of clarity, while some folks may refer to this as a “strike,” it is not — a strike and a lockout are two different things. A strike is when the players stop working in order to get a new agreement in place. A lockout is when the owners refuse to engage with any activity with the players. While there’s a lot of “both sides are to blame for the work stoppage” talk, the lockout is a unilateral act by the owners, which the players cannot do anything about (other than agree to whatever deal the owners want).
Its been noted that the current CBA is generally favorable to the owners, and they would like be happy to continuing the current CBA with some minor changes (most prominently, expanded playoffs). Given that, one can reasonably ask, why would the owners institute a lockout? If they are generally happy with the CBA and feel it is largely to their advantage, why not just keep on keeping on?
The short answer to that is, the owners want to take away from the players the leverage they would have by striking. The strike was called mid-season in both 1981 and 1994 by the players to put pressure on the owners to come to the table and make concessions to get games going again. If there’s no deal a week before the season, the players can threaten to strike, which would delay Opening Day and otherwise create havoc which would be detrimental to the owners.
By contrast, implementing a lockout now takes that power away from the players. The owners can say, fine, we will put everything on hold until an agreement is reached, rather than give the MLBPA the ability to pull the plug at a time of their choosing.
With the lockout going on, teams cannot have contact with any players on a major league contract or who have been tendered a major league contract — essentially, any players on the 40 man roster. They cannot have any transactions involving players on major league contracts, or sign players on major league contracts. The teams are also supposed to not have any negotiations or any discussions with other teams about players on major league contracts — so theoretically, no negotiating trades to be consummated once the lockout ends — and are not allowed to discuss major league contracts with any free agents.
Those restrictions are not in place with players who are not on the 40 man roster, however, so teams can still sign players to minor league contracts, and could make trades involving players not on the 40 man roster.
I’m not going to be too worried about the lockout unless we get to the end of January and no deal is in place, and a deal isn’t close. I would be surprised if any games get canceled. I expect a deal to be reached sometime between MLK Day and Groundhog Day. Then there will be a flurry of activity as free agents and teams rush to get deals done in before spring training, and we will likely have a CBA that will take us through the 2026 season, meaning it will be five more years before we have to worry about a work stoppage again.