Baseball’s never-ending offseason hasn’t ended yet.
MLB officially canceled the first week of the 2022 season after negotiations with the players’ union Tuesday, the ninth consecutive day of meetings about a new labor contract, deteriorated into another public war of words, as has been their norm in recent days and weeks during the lockout and in the previous years.
The Players Association rejected what it said the league called its "last and best" offer before the MLB-imposed 5 p.m. deadline, an arbitrary end point to which the PA never agreed. Then commissioner Rob Manfred made good on his threat, revealing that the first two series of the season had been scrapped after the sides "exhausted every possibility."
That announcement came 90 days after MLB unilaterally locked out the players, a voluntary move, and 30 days before what would have been Opening Day. This is the first time regular-season games have been affected by a work stoppage since 1995.
"Players want to play. We all know that," union executive director Tony Clark said during a news conference at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, where the sides had been meeting. "But the reason we’re not playing is simple. A lockout is the ultimate economic weapon. Let me repeat that: A lockout is the ultimate economic weapon. In a $10 billion [per year] industry, the owners have made a conscious decision to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have: the players."
MLB and the Players Association remain in strong disagreement on key economic issues, including the competitive-balance tax, a prearbitration bonus pool and minimum salaries.
"If it was solely within my ability or the ability of the clubs to get an agreement, we’d have an agreement," Manfred said during a separate news conference. "The tough thing about this process is it takes both parties to make an agreement. I’m really disappointed."
The Mets, who were set to open the season at Citi Field, lost series versus Washington (three games) and Atlanta (two games). Their ticket policy, including refund information, is available at Mets.com/2022updates. The Yankees’ season-opening road trip against the Rangers (four games) and Astros (three games) was wiped out. More games are subject to cancellation if MLB and the PA can’t come to an agreement.
Manfred said players will not be paid for missed games. He also said the schedule will not be redone when the season starts — when a new collective bargaining agreement eventually is finalized — teams will simply pick up wherever they would have been anyway. The union wants the missed games to be rescheduled and/or players to be paid for a full season, according to chief negotiator Bruce Meyer. That sets this up to be another huge issue when negotiations begin again.
It’s not clear when the sides will next meet. Since MLB made the most recent proposal on every issue, Manfred said, "You draw your own conclusion about who oughta go next." Union officials stressed that it is MLB’s lockout and it was MLB that declared its Tuesday afternoon offer its "last and best."
On the CBT, also known as the luxury tax, MLB wants the first threshold to be $220 million in each of the first three years, followed by $224M and $230M in the last two seasons of a five-year deal. The union’s version starts at $238M and climbs to $263M — a major disparity.
On the prearbitration salary pool, MLB suggested $30 million annually. The PA asked for $85 million to start, with $5 million increases every year — another major disparity.
On minimum salaries, they are actually close. MLB pitched $700,000 to start, upped by $10,000 each season. The union wants to start at $725,000.
Issues on which they found common ground include a 12-team playoff field, dropping draft-pick compensation attached to free agents and bringing the DH to the National League. But all of that is subject to change given that talks are "deadlocked," to use Manfred’s word.
This mess was the new bottom of a work stoppage, baseball’s first in more than a quarter-century, that has stretched into its fourth month. When the previous CBA expired on Dec. 2, MLB immediately locked out the players, claiming it would hasten negotiations. The league waited 43 days before making any proposal. On Feb. 10, Manfred said, "I see missing [regular-season] games as a disastrous outcome for this industry."
During the union’s media session — which ESPN and MLB Network cut away from after carrying Manfred’s remarks in their entirety — officials emphasized the group’s togetherness. About a dozen players, including Mets co-ace Max Scherzer and former Mets Noah Syndergaard, Michael Wacha and AJ Ramos, were present.
"I’ve seen more unity over the last few years than in any time in our recent history," said Clark, whose 15-year career as a major-leaguer began in 1995.
Free agent Andrew Miller said: "We’re prepared. We’re prepared. We’ve seen this coming in a sense. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not new to us. It’s not shocking. It’s, again, unfortunate, but our communication, our willingness to . . . fight for what’s right is like nothing I’ve seen before."