If you’re old enough, you remember when the belligerent relationship between major league players and owners led to a strike or lockout every four or five years, culminating in the depressing cancellation of the 1994 World Series. We’ve had labor peace since then, but that streak is about to end at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday night, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires and owners are expected to lock out players. That means no trades involving major leaguers, no free-agent signings, no major league portion of the winter meetings, nothing but hope it all gets resolved before spring training.
The new CBA talks come at a delicate time for the sport. Total league revenue has been down the past two seasons due to COVID-19 and commissioner Rob Manfred claimed the sport suffered a $3 billion operating loss in 2020. It also hit an all-time revenue high in 2019 at more than $10 billion, however, and a new seven-year national TV deal that kicks in for 2022 will pay an average of $1.84 billion per season, up from $1.55 billion. According to Forbes estimates, franchise values continue to escalate. In 2020, Steve Cohen purchased the Mets for $2.475 billion and John Sherman purchased the Royals for $1 billion. Only one other team has been sold since 2012, suggesting that not many owners are trying to get out of the baseball business.
Meanwhile, the league would like to spice up the entertainment value of the on-field product, while the players see themselves receiving a declining percentage of league revenue and fewer franchises trying to field competitive teams. Frankly, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for anybody here. Aaron Loup, a 10-year veteran reliever with six career saves and no seasons with 60 innings pitched since 2014, just signed a two-year, $17 million contract. Neither side is exactly suffering.
As we stare at the lockout and the winter of negotiations ahead, it’s important to learn how we got here — there have been eight previous lockouts or player strikes — and how that history will influence what happens this winter.
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