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The MLB lockout explained, in 5 minutes

The big issues you need to know about what’s happening in baseball.

MLB: World Series-Atlanta Braves at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

MLB owners locked out players Thursday as the labor battle that began between the sides last year moved into its next stage. The lockout came after the collective bargaining agreement, signed in 2017, expired at midnight — and could put the 2022 season in jeopardy unless something progresses.

There are plenty of amazing resources out there if you want to dive deep into the labor issues precipitating the lockout. Marc Normandin has been documenting MLB labor issues for years, and is an expert on the topic. Today we’re just covering the down and dirty details of what the impasse is to give you a better idea of why we’re in a work stoppage.

What exactly is a lockout?

The process of a lockout is essentially simple: Owners halt all baseball activities, and can literally lock out players from their facilities. During this time in the year the only business taking place are contract negotiations and players working out, so by stopping all that activity it’s designed to pressure the union into expediting CBA negotiations.

What owners want

There was a push before the 2021 season to expand the playoffs. This would have primarily benefited teams, who get 100 percent of TV revenue in the postseason, while players only get a portion of the gate, which is considerably smaller than TV revenue.

In exchange for this the owners offered a reduction to a 154 game season, and implementation of a universal DH — two things players have asked for. However, the tradeoff was paltry in exchange for the massive additional revenue owners would make from a playoff expansion.

Outside of this, owners wanted to maintain the status quo. The 2017-21 CBA was wildly profitable and beneficial to owners, so they simply wanted to keep the process in place — while making even more money through expanded playoffs.

What players want

The concerns of players are far more ranging. First, there has been a shrinking percentage of revenue going to players, with MLB using creative accounting to show why players are keeping an even share.

Players want provisions in place to protect prospects from being held back in the minors for the purpose of taking advantage of their contract status to sign them to less money. This service time manipulation is common, and has resulted in players not making their major league debut, despite being ready, because of their compensation.

In addition, players want free agency to be available to anyone who has reached 29.5 yards old if they’ve accrued five years of service time, or all players who have accrued six years of service time — whichever comes first. This is something the owners have said is a non-starter, as they want to keep the six years to free agency, and three years of arbitration process they’ve had in place.

While top-end marquee contracts have ballooned, the salaries for younger players have stagnated — and the union wants to ensure protections are in place to get standout young stars paid commensurate with their talent faster, rather than being forced to wait for their payday.

The union also wants to see tanking addressed. The Orioles have been a prime example of tanking in recent years, befitting from landing top draft picks and benefiting from the league’s revenue sharing. All this while only playing their entire roster $42 million, $100M less than 14 teams in the league. Players want to see a way this process is stopped and teams are incentivized to win again by paying players a fair wage.

Finally, on the topic of potential playoff expansion, players are concerned that expanding the field will motivate teams to spend less on players knowing they could still slide into the postseason and benefit from the TV revenue from the playoffs.

What happens next?

The lockout was a tactic to expedite CBA negotiations. Owners have been resistant to meet any of the players’ demands, instead offering crumbs attached to major issues like playoff expansion.

While both sides are very firm on their demands, historically, lockouts in baseball have not led to missed games. In short: Owners and players know there’s a lot to be lost — so it’s likely we will get movement on a CBA before it impacts the 2022 season.