MLB lockout: MLB, MLBPA agree on new CBA

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More than three months after the MLB lockout began on Dec. 2, it finally came to an end on Thursday.

How did we get here? Why did it take so long? Here's a look back at the key moments in the negotiations between the owners and players on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

March 10, 2022 update

The lockout is over! Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have reached a tentative agreement on a new labor deal, sources told ESPN's Jeff Passan. While it still needs to be ratified by both parties, that is expected to be a formality.

Earlier in the day, there was also an agreement on the international draft, a source told ESPN, with MLB and the MLBPA agreeing that they have until July 25 to reach a deal on an international draft that would start in 2024.

March 9, 2022 update

Major League Baseball canceled the second week of the regular season Wednesday after days of discussion with the MLB Players Association failed to generate a new collective-bargaining agreement. Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement postponing Opening Day until April 14, saying "regrettably, after our second late-night bargaining session in a week, we remain without a deal." The Players Association responded shortly after, saying, "Our top priority remains the finalization of a fair contract for all Players, and we will continue negotiations toward that end."

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association plan to pick up talks on a new collective bargaining agreement Wednesday morning after deep-into-the-night discussions produced enough progress toward a potential deal for the league to put off canceling another batch of regular-season games.

Nearly 17 hours of bargaining starting Tuesday morning and ending past 3 a.m. ET yielded some breakthroughs on the 97th day of MLB's lockout, but the union requested to reconvene with player leaders Wednesday before responding to the league's proposal, according to an MLB official.

March 8, 2022 update

Major League Baseball plans to cancel another week of regular-season games if it can't agree to a new collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association by Tuesday night.

March 1, 2022 update

MLBPA player leaders agreed unanimously not to accept MLB's deadline proposal. In a 5 p.m. ET news conference, Rob Manfred announced that the first two regular-season series have been canceled and will not be made up.

After a 16-hour day of meetings that stretched into early Tuesday morning, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association moved the deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement that would save regular-season games from being canceled to 5 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Feb. 28, 2022 update

Despite a long day of conversations between MLB and the MLBPA on Sunday, the sides still remain far apart on a new collective bargaining agreement, a union source told ESPN. The sides will meet again Monday, the day MLB has stated as a deadline to reach a deal before Opening Day games will be cancelled due to the work stoppage.

Feb. 22, 2022 update

MLB and the MLBPA remain far apart after beginning in-person negotiations in Jupiter, Florida, on Monday, sources tell ESPN. With a soft deadline of Feb. 28 to start the season on time, the two sides will continue talks at the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins throughout the week.

Feb. 18, 2022 update

MLB officially postponed all spring training games through at least Saturday, March 5. The announcement came just over a week before the first Cactus League and Grapefruit League matchups were scheduled to begin. In the statement, MLB said:

"We regret that, without a collective bargaining agreement in place, we must postpone the start of Spring Training games until no earlier than Saturday, March 5th. All 30 Clubs are unified in their strong desire to bring players back to the field and fans back to the stands. The Clubs have adopted a uniform policy that provides an option for full refunds for fans who have purchased tickets from the Clubs to any Spring Training games that are not taking place. We are committed to reaching an agreement that is fair to each side. On Monday, members of the owners' bargaining committee will join an in-person meeting with the Players Association and remain every day next week to negotiate and work hard towards starting the season on time."

While exact plans are not finalized, MLB and the MLB Players Association intend to hold multiple bargaining sessions -- perhaps every day -- as early as Monday, sources told ESPN. Multiple owners and players expect to fly in for sessions leading up to MLB's stated Feb. 28 deadline.

When should fans be worried about Opening Day?

MLB has set that soft deadline to reach a deal, but fans should be very concerned if camps are not open by March 3.

During the restart to the pandemic season in 2020, the 23 days between the start of summer camp (July 1) and Opening Day (July 24) wasn't enough time to get ready, at least according to many pitchers and their agents. In order to begin the 2022 regular season on time, and with less concern for injury, four weeks of spring are likely needed, according to league sources.

That doesn't mean the sides can't agree on a shorter spring -- just like they did two years ago -- to keep Opening Day on March 31, it's just not ideal. And if a deal isn't struck by early March, once again, players will receive $5,000 checks from the union and will need to be ready to either play fewer than 162 games or a condensed schedule with modified roster limits in order to fit in all 162. It's pretty much the doomsday scenario.

Feb. 14, 2022 update

When did the two sides meet last?

Major League Baseball made its latest proposal to the MLB Players Association on Saturday, the 71st day since the league locked out the players. MLB made minimal tweaks to several elements of the deal: It added $2 million a year to the competitive balance tax threshold in 2024, 2025 and 2026; offered two choices for a minimum-salary structure; increased its bonus pool for pre-arbitration players from $10 million to $15 million; and added an opportunity for teams to earn two draft picks by cultivating high-achieving players who spend a full season on a club's roster.

When are they planning to meet again?

Currently, there are no plans for the next bargaining session. The union is expected to respond to the league's proposal quickly -- the MLBPA could make a counterproposal toward the middle of the week.

Does it seem like the sides are getting closer?

No. The union had hoped that MLB's offer would be, as commissioner Rob Manfred deemed it last week, "a good proposal." Instead, players were almost universally nonplussed. The lack of movement on any substantive, core-economic issues since negotiations began in March 2020 has galvanized the players, who believe the financial boons they're offering -- expanded playoffs (12 teams, compared to the league's ask of 14) and on-uniform advertising -- should have pushed the league to budge.

Ownership nonetheless is holding firm on some of the most important issues, including salaries for younger players, service-time manipulation (the league wants to incentivize teams not to do it, rather than reward service time to high-achieving players) and competitive integrity (MLB has proposed a three-pick lottery for non-playoff teams, rather than the MLBPA's suggested eight).

Isn't spring training supposed to start this week?

Sure is. Pitchers and catchers were due to report to some teams as early as Tuesday. At a news conference following the owners meetings last week, Manfred declined to say officially that the league was postponing spring training, even though it was obvious. Next up is the postponement of spring training games, which are scheduled to begin Feb. 26. Those aren't happening, either -- and MLB will need to actively cancel them, in this case, because tickets to games have been sold.

On which issues are the owners most likely to give up ground? What about the players?

Bit by bit, MLB has moved on the minimum salary and agreed to the pre-arb bonus pool. Those numbers will continue to grow. Dropping a draft-pick penalty for exceeding the first CBT threshold indicated MLB is willing to move in that area, though the combination of small increases -- MLB's year-by-year first-threshold offers are $214 million, $214 million, $216 million, $218 million and $222 million -- and the stiffer financial penalties for exceeding them are a significant point of contention.

The union has remained committed to changing two areas that MLB is calling nonstarters: revenue sharing and salary arbitration for all players after two years. The league wants to keep its revenue-sharing plan in place rather than accede to the MLBPA's offer of $30 million less going to lower-revenue teams, and it doesn't want changes to the arbitration system, which currently includes all players with more than three but fewer than six years of service and the 22% of the two-to-three-year class with the most service time (Super 2s).

How concerned should fans be at this point?

Quite. At the meeting Saturday, MLB set a deadline to make a deal in time to salvage Opening Day: Feb. 28. Now, that's a soft deadline; if an agreement came together on March 3, it's difficult to imagine the league wouldn't be ready by March 31. At the same time, it gives two sides that are meeting infrequently two weeks to figure out how to bridge a massive financial gap in a way that's palatable to an angry group of players and an unwavering group of owners. This is not 1994 (yet). But in rhetoric and trajectory, it's starting to feel an awful lot like 1981, when a midseason player strike took out more than a month of the season, canceling 713 games.

Feb. 10, 2022 update

With baseball's lockout in its third month, commissioner Rob Manfred spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since the work stoppage began. "The status of spring training is no change right now," Manfred said at MLB's owners meetings when asked about a potential delay with camps scheduled to open next week.

Asked if he thinks Opening Day will take place as scheduled March 31. The commissioner responded: "I'm an optimist, and I believe we will have an agreement in time to play our regular-season schedule."

Jan. 25, 2022 update

Major League Baseball indicated for the first time that it is open to a pre-arbitration bonus pool during a labor meeting Tuesday with the MLB Players Association, but the sides remain far apart on how much should be distributed, according to sources familiar with the talks.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association planned to meet again Tuesday after a Monday bargaining session led to the first sliver of progress between the sides since the league locked the players out Dec. 2, sources told ESPN.

Jan. 24, 2022

When did the two sides meet last?

The long-awaited first meeting since Major League Baseball locked the players out happened Jan. 13 over Zoom. After 43 days of inaction by the sides, the league presented an offer that included paying players with between two and three years service via a formula, rewarding teams that bring up top prospects with extra draft picks and a slight tweak to its proposed draft lottery. The players found none of the league's ideas particularly compelling.

When are they planning to meet again?

They will meet face to face -- for the first time since Dec. 1 -- on Monday, when the MLB Players Association is expected to counter the league's proposal.

What's expected to be covered in the next meeting?

The thrust of the union's proposal is unclear. From the beginning of negotiations nearly a year ago now, the players have pushed for a suite of changes to the previous CBA. Among their desires: earlier free agency and arbitration, disincentivizing tanking, a significant increase in the competitive balance tax threshold, ending service-time manipulation and rejiggering revenue sharing.

Does that mean progress is coming?

Possibly. While this particular proposal from the union almost certainly will not lead directly to a deal, it could potentially provide a path to one. The players' wide range of targets has left ownership wondering what the union truly wants from this deal, because it certainly cannot make gains in all areas with just one collective bargaining agreement. If the league can glean from this proposal what the players' priorities are, it could accelerate progress in negotiations. Otherwise, the negotiations are likely to wind up where they have been for months: going nowhere fast.

How concerned should fans be at this point?

On a scale of 1-10, we're at a solid 4. If MLB wants to start spring training in mid-February as planned, the sides need a deal by the end of the first week of the month at the latest ... and that's two weeks from Monday. Neither side seems particularly aghast at starting spring training late, though, which buys more time. The real date for concern -- when the regular season becomes in peril -- is around March 1. If there isn't a deal then, the possibility of games being pushed back or lost becomes real. If there isn't progress in the next few weeks, buckle up.

Jan. 13, 2022

Did the two sides meet last week?

No. The span between any core-economic conversations between the sides reached the 43-day mark before a meeting was finally held this week. That is nearly a month and a half during which the sides could have been talking. To put it another way: The gap between the Dec. 2 lockout and today is greater than that between today and the mid-February dates pitchers and catchers are expected to report to spring training.

Are they planning to meet this week?

Major League Baseball on Thursday made its first labor proposal since locking out players, focusing on a narrow set of issues that did little to encourage players and heightened the likelihood of spring training being postponed, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.

How much progress has been made?

MLB hoped the proposal would spur discussion with the union after the sides' failed negotiations leading up to the lockout led to six weeks of inaction, but the result was mainly disappointment from the players.

Are there any new issues?

Expanding on this a touch ... there's a lingering question about the balance in the sides' concerns over poor-performing teams. The players see how the game's levers incentivize teams to lose. The low-revenue owners believe that the fewer restraints on payroll exist, the less likely they are to be competitive. The real question here: Will the issues of competitiveness actually factor in for either side when they get down to brass tacks, or will it be strictly about money?

What can break the dam here?

Multiple sources familiar with the discussions believe the competitive-balance-tax threshold could wind up as the main hinge point in negotiations. It's too early to say whether it will be the final piece solidified before a new basic agreement, but if a deal happens to avoid a prolonged lockout, it almost certainly will involve the CBT floor being raised from $210 million.

Is there a drop-dead date for spring training games to be played as scheduled?

Games are scheduled to begin Feb. 26. At absolute latest, there must be a two-week lead time -- and there probably should be more. The visa issues for foreign players are expected to be significant. Getting domestic travel in place will take a few days. Don't forget the COVID-19 protocols that are likely to necessitate extra time. And that's not even mentioning all the free agents who still need jobs and the prep work pitchers need once they get to spring training. Getting an agreement by Feb.1 would make life a lot easier. But remember: As much as teams would like to get in spring training games, regular-season games matter far, far, far-far-far more.

How concerned should fans be at this point?

Anyone with plane tickets and hotels in Arizona or Florida for the first day of pitchers and catchers hopefully has travel insurance. But if you have tickets to Opening Day in late March, don't ask for a refund just yet. Time is the greatest friend of these negotiations, even if the sides have wasted the past six weeks of it.

Dec. 20, 2021

Did the two sides meet recently?

Yes. But only on some of the smaller or "noncore economic" issues, which wouldn't necessarily even involve the lead negotiators from both sides, although at least there was communication. These noncore issues -- which might include scheduling, the All-Star Game, drug and domestic violence policies, grievance procedures and special events -- are worth discussing, but the only conversations that will get us closer to ending the shutdown will be on the major economic issues that forced the lockout in the first place.

Are they planning to meet again?

Nothing is scheduled for Christmas week, but that can always change if one side or the other has something to add or change or say about a proposal -- but even then, it would most likely remain on those noncore topics.

How much progress has been made?

Very little so far. January will be a big month in determining when the lockout ends. The core economic issues will be back on the table in the new year, and serious negotiations should take place. It's anyone's guess right now if that will happen on Jan. 2 or Jan. 22, but the sides can't avoid the train coming down the tracks (especially since spring training typically begins in February). To break the deadlock, one or both sides is going to have to give a little on a major issue.

What kind of major issue?

Nothing big -- just the economic systems that have been in place for decades. Sarcasm aside, there are several key hot topics which need resolving, including years to free agency (or the switch to an age-based system), the arbitration system and revenue sharing among clubs. Paraphrasing here -- the players say they're working under antiquated rules, while the league says these are core issues to the way the game has played, which have long since been agreed upon. That's the deadlock.

Why can't they compromise?

The union was not at all happy with how the 2016 collective bargaining agreement negotiations turned out -- or, they say, how the game has changed since. So this year, the players need a win. The league believes they've offered them a few in the form of an NBA-style draft lottery and/or the elimination of draft pick compensation for free agents. Obviously, the union doesn't think that's enough.

How concerned should fans be at this point?

Not very, yet -- but we'll know much more in a month.