The spectre of a work stoppage in Major League Baseball landed on Tuesday when Fox Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal authored a piece saying a lockout by owners had become a possibility with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire on Dec. 1.
None of Rosenthal’s sources spoke on the record, but his track record as a reporter is sturdy enough that someone is talking about this scenario somewhere. In October, commissioner Rob Manfred and union president Tony Clark said they were not worried about a deal getting done.
Few believe, currently, that the situation will escalate into a lockout, but stranger things have happened when dudes start posturing over power and money.
What is the tipping point?
The current agreement ends on Dec. 1.
Rosenthal said in his piece: “The possibility of a lockout stems from the owners’ frustration with the players’ union over the slow pace of the discussions, sources said. The two sides still have more than a week to complete a deal, but a number of significant issues remain unresolved.”
There’s no guarantee of a lockout on Dec. 1. The sides could decide to keep talking and operate under the rules of the old deal.
What are their differences?
In Rosenthal’s story, the sticking points are said to be:
• The owners’ desire to have international players to go through a draft. Only North American players are eligible for the June entry draft and unsigned international players, especially from the Caribbean, are free agents from day one. Teams will start signing players in places like the Dominican Republic at the age of 16 and Cuban defectors can command high-dollar deals based on little scouting or comparison to other prospects.
• Players want to eliminate or moderate the draft-pick compensation when free agents who turned down qualifying offers are signed by other teams. The system, which came from the 2011 CBA and was tweaked partway through, has hindered several players because the compensation was too steep for their relative value. Until last season, no player had even accepted the one-year qualifying offer because of the potential riches awaiting in free agency.
• A faction of players has said it wants a stronger drug program and oddly, baseball is balking at it.
• The two sides are also stuck on a new threshold for the luxury tax. It has been $189 million for the last three years with increasing penalties for every consecutive year a team goes over.
What else could come from a new agreement?
• Roster sizes is on the table, with the potential to increase the limit to 26 players, which could ease the burden on those relief pitchers and backup infielders with options left who get shuttled back and forth from Triple-A as a roster-management tool.
• Bringing some sanity to the September roster sizes. An ancient baseball rule allows teams to call up any and every player on the 40-man roster after Sept. 1. The issue drew attention in the media in 2016 since it creates competitive imbalances that do not exist for the other five months of the season. A limit to some number under 30 is possible.
• Adding a small handful of days to the season. Currently teams play 162 games in 183 days. That’s 21 days off over six months.