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MLB Labor Negotiations: Could A Lockout Happen?

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This latest bit of news is a bit disconcerting.

Al Yellon

Just when we thought the MLB/MLBPA negotiations were going reasonably smoothly, here’s a report from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal that mentions a word we really don’t want to hear -- “lockout”:

The owners will consider voting to lock out the players if the two sides cannot reach a new collective-bargaining agreement by the time the current deal expires on Dec. 1, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.

A lockout would put baseball’s business on hold, delaying free-agent signings and trades until a new agreement is reached. The winter meetings, a joint venture between the majors and minors scheduled to take place from Dec. 4 to 8 near Washington D.C., might still transpire, but without the usual frenzy of major-league activity.

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.

This wouldn’t be good for a sport that’s had 21 straight years without a labor stoppage, something that makes baseball stand apart from its other North American counterparts, all of whom have had some disruptions to various seasons over that time, including one completely lost season, the 2004-05 NHL campaign.

The biggest issues still keeping the sides apart include an international draft (owners want it, players don’t), the competitive-balance tax, and discussions about eliminating draft-pick compensation, something Rosenthal says the owners have discussed giving (in some form) to the players if they’d agree to an international draft. The international draft has quite a few issues with it, and I don’t see how they’d make it work, especially since many players from (for example) the Dominican Republic are signed not long after they turn 16.

One of the reasons, in my view, that these negotiations have turned a bit frosty are the principals involved. This is Rob Manfred’s first CBA as commissioner, though he served as lead negotiator for the last three agreements. Former MLB player Tony Clark is now the MLBPA chief, and the former head, Michael Weiner, who died of cancer three years ago, seemed to have the knack to working out deals with the owners. It’s not known how Clark does in these situations; he hasn’t said much publicly about any of it. (Incidentally, Clark was a pretty good player during his 15-year career, with four 30-homer seasons and 251 total homers. Here’s his playing record.)

The current CBA expires a week from tomorrow. That doesn’t mean there’d be an immediate lockout. Players and owners could agree to just let the current agreement’s terms govern the sport until they can work out a new deal.

But this from an article from CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney sums it up for me:

After a World Series that beat the NFL’s “Sunday Night Football” in head-to-head TV ratings and saw more than 40 million people tune in for Game 7, Major League Baseball can’t be seriously thinking about ending 20-plus years of labor peace.

One Cubs player still processing those 10 crazy innings against the Cleveland Indians had the same thought during the postgame celebration inside Progressive Field’s visiting clubhouse: “Hell, if we can’t get our CBA done after this year, I mean, we’re (expletive).”

That seems right to me. Baseball got the attention of a lot of people during the Cubs’ postseason run who’d never followed the sport before. It would be wise, I believe, by both sides in the negotiations to take heed of that and hammer out a deal so that MLB’s two-decade run of labor peace can continue.