Major League Baseball Lockout Leads to Canceled Games, Opening Day Delay

Major League Baseball and its Players Association failed to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) by deadlines created by Commissioner Rob Manfred, which led the commissioner to cancel at least the first two series of the season, postponing Opening Day which was scheduled for March 31 by at least a week, creating another blow to a sport lagging with young consumers and rarely on the field the past two-plus years.

Manfred said the league's contingent and players union negotiators are leaving Florida, and will not be able to come to a deal until at least Thursday when the sides can next meet. He called Tuesday a "not particularly productive" day and said both sides need to regroup before moving forward.

Representatives from the union said at a press conference later Tuesday that they are prepared to restart negotiations "as soon as possible."

The ongoing lockout of the players produced the first time MLB games will be missed because of a labor dispute since the opening of the 1995 season after players went on strike in August 1994, leading to the cancellation of the World Series that year and eventually shortening the 1995 season to 144 games.

Manfred spent the first portion of his press conference outlining the league's final proposal of the day, arguing that shifts to financial benchmarks could have produced about two-thirds of the league getting a significant raise, and said discussions of competitive measures like a pitch clock and banning defensive shifts occurred.

The league's proposal also included the introduction of a "draft lottery," using a randomized draw with different odds based on regular-season records, similar to the system in place in the NBA. The lottery is meant to take away incentives to "tank," a colloquial term for losing games to guarantee a better draft position. Manfred also said one of the final agreements the two sides made was for a 12-team postseason format, though the league would prefer 14.

In response to a question about why the schedule could not be shifted and regular-season games were being canceled, Manfred cited the expansion of interleague play between American League and National League teams that don't play each other often enough to allow for rescheduling of those games. He also said the league's position is still that players will not be paid for games that are not played. As it stands, many teams will not play the same amount of total games this season.

The union representatives said the league is free to take that position, but they would be prepared to counter with a refusal to return to play unless there is a system of compensation in place for the games that were canceled, including requesting the games be rescheduled.

The union said in a statement that players and fans who love baseball are "disgusted, but sadly not surprised" by the cancellations. The statement also reiterated the union's stated objectives to "promote competition, provide fair compensation for young players, and to uphold the integrity of our market system."

"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," the MLBPA's statement continued. "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."

The league and union negotiated late into Monday night, eventually agreeing to move past Manfred's original Feb. 28 deadline. He then tabbed Tuesday at 5 p.m. as the next do-or-die time slot for negotiations. When the union unanimously rejected the league's final offer of the day, Manfred made good on his threat to start carving games he says won't be replaced from the 2022 schedule. Removing games penalizes player salaries as well as ownership revenue.

Before the season began to erode Tuesday, accusations of planted negative narratives and bad-faith bargaining came from both sides as negotiations approached the Manfred-created deadline.

The league accused the union Tuesday of a "change in tone" to negotiations, and said it planned to submit a final offer to the union by 5 p.m. The idea that the union's tone had changed was immediately refuted by the union and several players publicly, who said their tone has been consistent throughout the offseason that the sides are far apart and they don't believe MLB has been serious about a deal with some of their offers.

"FWIW MLB has pumped to the media last night & today that there's momentum toward a deal. Now saying the players tone has changed," Alex Wood of the San Francisco Giants tweeted. So if a deal isn't done today it's our fault. This isn't a coincidence. We've had the same tone all along. We just want a fair deal/to play ball."

The league's "final offer" was received by players shortly before 4 p.m., and a wide gap still existed between the financial figures in several areas presented by the league and in the union's last reported offer, Jeff Passan of ESPN reported.

A key piece of the negotiations that the league has refused to budge on has been the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT), which amounts to baseball's version of a "luxury tax". It dictates how much a team can spend on its roster before it has to pay an extra amount per dollar spent on players, and was at $210 million for the 2021 season, according to the league's website.

The league's proposals have held the CBT threshold at $220 million over the next three seasons, with small increases in the last two years of the CBA, while the union has proposed raising the threshold to $238 million this season, and increasing up to $263 million by the end of the five-year CBA. Raising the CBT would theoretically increase total player salaries.

The core of proposals from the owners has been a desire to expand the postseason to 14 teams, which would add more games that could create new broadcasting revenue while limiting what they would have to spend on their rosters.

The players' aim has been centered around expanding several financial systems that would allow younger players to reach free agency sooner, which would allow many to make more money during their careers. Team control of younger players allows organizations to receive maximum performance from young talents at a bargain price.

The current league-imposed lockout began in December, meaning players could not do normal offseason activities like be in contact with teams about free agent contract negotiations or work out at team facilities until a new CBA was agreed to and ratified.

In his February 10 press conference, Manfred said he believed an agreement would be reached in time for a full season to be played, and said missing games would be a "disastrous outcome" for the sport, which is precisely what happened.

Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball, Lockout
Major League Baseball and its Players Association have failed to come to an agreement before Rob Manfred's self-imposed February 28 deadline, paving the way for a labor stoppage-related delay of Opening Day for the first time since 1995. Above, a detailed view of a pair of official Rawlings Major League Baseball baseballs with the imprinted signature of Robert D. Manfred Jr., the Commissioner of Major League Baseball March 1, 2020. Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images