Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) have agreed to make an early start on devising a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in what is deemed an unprecedented move amid growing unrest among the sport’s stars.
The announcement was made yesterday (Thursday) as part of the introduction of a series of rule changes scheduled to go into effect over the next two seasons. These include expanded playing rosters and a three-batter minimum for pitchers, while MLB has agreed to drop its drive for pitch clocks to be introduced until 2022 at the earliest.
In December 2016, the owners of MLB clubs agreed to the proposed terms of a new CBA, through which labour peace was allowed to continue in the North American league. The five-year CBA, which is scheduled to run through the 2021 season, was first unveiled in November 2016 – just hours before the expiration of the previous contract – in a move to avoid the prospect of a first lockout in the sport for over two decades.
In normal circumstances, MLB and the MLBPA would have commenced talks on a fresh CBA in March 2021 but tensions have been rising between players and the league. Players have been angered by the slow free-agent market that has resulted from the introduction of the current CBA. With only weeks to the new season, star players such as Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel remain unsigned.
Indeed, the MLBPA’s executive director Tony Clark last month stated fans should question the value of buying tickets for certain teams. Clark made the move in response to comments from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who suggested that star players being without contracts was down to them being unrealistic in their pay demands.
The union believes MLB has been slow to introduce changes designed to make the game more appealing. Average attendances at MLB ballparks have fallen for three consecutive seasons, and last year dropped below 30,000 for the first time since 2003.
Yesterday’s announcement is seen as unprecedented as none of the previous 11 CBAs, dating back to 1966, were renegotiated mid-agreement. “It remains to be seen what the union’s going to ask for, what we’re going to ask for and whether we reach an agreement,” MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem said, according to the Associated Press news agency. “It’s a positive sign we were able to reach an agreement with the union on rule changes and hopefully we can build on that.”
Clark added: “I think the common ground that we were able to find here has cracked open a door to a broader conversion. And that broader conversion we believe is necessary and in the best interest of both parties. How things manifest themselves moving forward remains to be seen.”
MLB’s last lockout ran from August 12, 1994 to April 2, 1995, resulting in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.