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With the MLB lockout in full effect, there are several questions surrounding how MLB players and teams will operate in the ensuing months.
The MLB hasn’t seen a work stoppage since 1994, and that year was a challenging one for professional baseball. Players protesting the advent of a salary cap, which caused the MLB to cut its season short and cancel the World Series for the first time in 90 years. The strike ended after 232 days on April 2, 1995, marking the longest work stoppage in MLB history.
Ideally, the 2021 MLB lockout won’t last as long, but the difference between a strike and a lockout is paramount: in this case, MLB owners dictate the terms, not players. Because of this, players are not allowed to communicate with their teams at this time, and teams cannot sign MLB free agents. For free agents like Freddie Freeman, Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Story could wait months before signing with a new team.
The tenuous situation presents many questions, some of which FanSided can answer today — and some for which no one has a definite answer.
When will the MLB lockout end?
Like the 1994 players strike, there is no specific time limit on a lockout. Rather, it is a holdout that exists because the two parties — the MLBPA and MLB owners — refuse to agree on terms to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The lockout could last longer than the remainder of the MLB offseason. MLB Opening Day 2022 is March 31st, giving players and owners four months to agree on amenable terms and ratify a new agreement.
Will there be a universal DH?
A designated hitter (DH) is a non-fielding player that is named as a part of a batting rotation, usually to replace a pitcher. Adopted by the AL in 1973, the practice allows strong batters to replace pitchers, who are often the weakest spot in a batting rotation. David Ortiz is a prominent example, winning the Edgar Martinez Award (an award for the most outstanding DH) eight times. Shohei Ohtani, the 2021 AL MVP, rose to prominence as a triple threat: a pitcher, an outfielder, and a designated hitter.
However, the practice does not currently exist in the NL, yet it is a part of the current MLB CBA negotiations. The practice of having a designated hitter is good for the game, as it allows for a more explosive offense that maximizes the use of batting talent in a distinct role. Owners could get more TV and marketing dollars as star DH players attract more attention (like Big Papi did in Boston), and players who see themselves as designated hitters could ask for a lot more money (like Freddie Freeman with the Braves).
But with rising tensions, something that seemed doable a few months ago could become another thing to debate in a frozen lockout environment. If the two sides can reach a compromise that improves the game, the DH could become universal in the MLB, which could significantly affect where remaining free agents sign.
What is a CBA?
The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) dictates the financial terms and employment guidelines by which MLB players and owners operate.
Essentially, it is an agreement between the union that advocates for MLB athletes and the owners. Without the CBA, billionaire owners could easily exploit the value of their employees, the players, so the CBA allows the two sides to agree on compromises that ideally make the game agreeable for all parties.
The CBA is used to define how the MLB operates, including the minimum salary, the process of free agency and salary arbitration, the functioning of the amateur draft, drug testing policies, and how the injury list works, among other issues.
The last CBA was ratified on Nov. 30, 2016, and it expired on Dec. 1, 2021. After years of mounting tension, the MLBPA and MLB owners were unable to extend the CBA or agree on new terms, hence the owner-induced lockout.
Why can’t players sign in free agency?
MLB players cannot sign in free agency because those are the conditions for an owner-induced lockout. Unlike a players’ strike, in which players are protesting against proposed terms, MLB owners are protesting the delayed CBA ratification by locking players out of their clubs.
Because of this, teams are forbidden from communicating with players during the lockout period, a tactic intended to pressure players into accepting their proposed terms. This means that free agents aren’t allowed to speak with teams during the lockout and are therefore unable to sign new contracts.
While many MLB free agents rushed to get in new contracts by the Dec. 1 deadline, many free agents remain on the market until the lockout ends. However, free agents outside of the MLB, such as Japan’s Seiya Suzuki, are available to sign with teams as they are not currently in the MLB.