Cold Stove: The State of the MLB Lockout

Adam A. Vischio

As a Mets fan, I often enjoy the MLB offseason more than the regular season. The offseason, or “The Hot Stove” as it’s called, brought hope that the Mets might make the right moves and sign the appropriate free agents to bring a championship to New York (it has not happened in my lifetime… yet). The wheeling and dealing at the December General Manager meetings, the exciting trade rumors, and lofty free agent contracts make the MLB offseason a spectacle worth monitoring.

The MLB lockout, official as of December 2, brought a complete halt to the offseason. Why did this happen? The players, represented by the MLB players association (MLBPA), and the team owners could not agree on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

MLB’s first work stoppage since 1994 comes at an interesting time.[1] Baseball is more profitable than ever as it grew to an $11 billion industry, and superstar free agents like Corey Seager are signing contracts north of $300 million.[2]

So, what’s the deal? Let’s start with the player’s demand. The players seek wholesale changes like: (1) allowing younger players to earn larger paychecks earlier in the career (2) removing incentives for teams to “tank”, (3) increasing revenue sharing between the teams and players, (4) ending “service time manipulation,” and (5) changing free agency rules.[3]

The owners largely want to maintain the status quo.[4] The previous CBA was extremely lucrative for MLB owners and TV revenue remains very high. However, the MLB owners would like to see an expanded playoff format because owners get 100 percent of the playoff TV revenue.[5] The owners have made some proposals to the MLBPA to address some concerns like: (1) instituting a club payroll floor, (2) increasing the luxury tax threshold, (3) eliminating draft pick compensation, (4) overhauling the salary arbitration system.[6]

Perhaps the most contentious disagreement between the two sides is the different views towards changing free agency. The MLBPA seeks making free agency valuable to anyone 29.5 years old and above if “they’ve accrued five years of service time, or all players who have accrued six years of service time — whichever comes first.”[7] The owners prefer to keep the current system where players become free agents upon reaching six years of MLB service time or when they are released from an organization. The owners also prefer to keep the current arbitration system in which a player has the chance to earn a greater salary after three years in the league, but still likely below what he is able earn in free agency.[8]

Will there be baseball this season? Yes. The 1994 players strike severely harmed baseball’s profits and reputation. [9] It is in the team owners’ self-interest to avoid a reputational hit that comes with a lockout leading to missed games because the league faces declining appeal from younger audiences and risks falling further behind the NFL behemoth. Although the players aren’t missing any paychecks yet, they will soon have emptier pockets if the lockout reaches the start of the regular season.

When will both sides likely reach an agreement? Right now, the owners have all the leverage, but that changes with the start of Spring Training, February 17th. Owners are not inclined to lose out on revenue from spring training games. Furthermore, the MLBPA wants spring training games to occur to allow its younger union members the opportunity to make a major league roster. Based on expert predictions, the MLB lockout will likely end around mid-February, early March.[10]

So, maybe this is the season the Mets bring a world series title back to New York for the first time since 1986 (as I tell myself every year).


[1] James Wagner, With No Deadline Deal, M.L.B.’s Lockout Begins, N.Y. Times (Dec. 2, 2021),

[2] Kennedi Landry, Rangers Officially Sign Seager to 10-Year Deal (Dec. 1, 2021),

[3] James Wagner, M.L.B.’s Lockout: What Is It? How Does It Work? What’s Next?, N.Y. Times (Dec. 4, 2021),; James Dator, The MLB Lockout Explained, In 5 Minutes, SB Nation (Dec. 2, 2021),

[4] Dator, supra note 3.

[5] Mike Axisa, MLB Proposes Expanded Playoff Format During CBA Negotiations, Per Report, CBS Sports (Nov. 29, 2021),

[6] James Wagner, The Clock is Ticking, But M.L.B. and Its Players Remain Apart, N.Y. Times (Jan. 14, 2022),

[7] Dator, supra note 3.

[8] Justin Sievert, Breaking Down the MLB Salary Arbitration Process, Sporting News (Jan. 12, 2018),,their%20four%20pre%2Darbitration%20years.

[9] Wagner, supra note 6.

[10] Mike Axisa, Batting Around: Predicting When The Owner-Imposed MLB Lockout Will End, CBS Sports (Jan. 6, 2022),