SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The 99-day MLB lockout has come to a close of March 10, according to the Associated Press, as players voted to accept the league's latest labor deal offer, thus salvaging a 162-game regular season.
Here's what you should know about the situation.
Why was there a lockout?
Major League Baseball plunged into its first work stoppage in a quarter-century when the sport’s collective bargaining agreement expired, and owners immediately locked out players in a move that threatens spring training and opening day.
Teams decided to force the long-anticipated confrontation during an offseason rather than risk players walking out during the summer, as they did in 1994. Players and owners had successfully reached four consecutive agreements without a work stoppage, but they have been accelerating toward a clash for more than two years.
"We believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season," baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. "We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the players’ association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive."
An agreement was also not made during Feb. 1's negotiations between the league and the players association.
What was the union demanding?
Initially, the union demanded change following anger over a declining average salary, middle-class players forced out by teams concentrating payroll on the wealthy and veterans jettisoned in favor of lower-paid youth, especially among clubs tearing down their rosters to rebuild.
"As players we see major problems with it," New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer said of the 2016 agreement. "First and foremost, we see a competition problem and how teams are behaving because of certain rules that are within that, and adjustments have to be made because of that in order to bring out the competition."
The union was seeking changes to the league's eligibility for free agency. Players currently need six years of MLB service time to satisfy that requirement.
Players were hoping to see that threshold lowered, allowing them to become free agents while younger and more valuable. They also wanted to see a designated hitter (DH) added to National League rosters, which players hope will secure a job for a veteran.
The Associated Press had reported the players also wanted to see the league’s luxury tax threshold raised from $210 million to $245 million, allowing teams to take on a higher payroll without a financial penalty. It’s part of their desire to see an increase in competition and a decrease in tanking.
Management, intent on preserving salary restraints gained in recent decades, rejected the union’s requests for what teams regarded as significant alterations to the sport’s economic structure.
What does the new deal entail?
The new collective bargaining agreement expands the playoffs to 12 teams and introduces incentives to limit so-called "tanking." The minimum salary will rise from $570,500 to about $700,000, and the luxury tax threshold will increase from $210 million to $230 million this year, a slight loosening for the biggest spenders such as the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Red Sox. A new bonus pool was established for players not yet eligible for arbitration, a way to boost salaries for young stars.
Under the deal, if a negotiated agreement on a draft is reached by July 25, direct amateur draft-pick compensation would be removed for free agents starting with the 2022-23 offseason.
If the sides do not reach an agreement by July 25, direct amateur-draft pick compensation would remain in place.
In MLB's proposal for an international draft, teams would rotate picking in different quadrants of the first round over a four-year period. A slotting system would be installed similar to what the union agreed to starting in 2012 for the amateur draft covering residents of the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada.
The international draft proposal includes hard slots that could not be negotiated by individuals. MLB estimates $17 million in additional spending for the drafted international players above the $166.3 million spent by the 30 teams in 2021, plus an additional $6 million on non-drafted players. The draft would start in 2024.
International players would lose the right to pick which team they sign with. The age for the draft would be in the year a player turns 16.
The deal also will set off a rapid-fire round of free agency. Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman and Kris Bryant are among 138 big leaguers still without a team, including some who might benefit from the adoption of a universal designated hitter.
What does the vote mean for the season?
Earlier on March 10, MLB sent the players an offer and gave them until 3 p.m. to accept in order to play a full season. The union announced the player vote around 3:25 p.m.
Owners had discussed the deal before MLB sent it to the players association. The owners have since ratified the deal in a unanimous vote, according to the AP.
What about spring training?
With the Cactus League, spring training was supposed to start on Feb. 26. The Grapefruit League was also supposed to start on the same date, according to their website.
On March 11, members of the Arizona Diamondbacks were working out at Salt River Fields, and according to a new spring training schedule released by Cactus League officials, opening day for spring training is now on March 17.
On March 14, more players were out practicing around Phoenix.
"Very excited we’ll be back," said Salt River Fields General Manager Dave Dunn. "Two years ago today, we shut down because of COVID, with the season halfway over. So, it’s a significant blessing that today, we’re talking about getting back."
For the Grapefruit League, The first spring training games will start on March 18.
How would a shorter season have affected players?
Players would lose $20.5 million in salary for each day of the season that is canceled, according to a study by The Associated Press, and the 30 teams would lose large sums that are harder to pin down.
What were players doing amid the lockout?
In the Phoenix area, dozens of locked-out players were still on the field, training together.
"I started last week, and it was five or six, then word got out," said Austin Slater with the San Francisco Giants. "Today, it’s gotta be close to 30 of the guys."
The players were playing at Legacy Sports Complex in Mesa.
"It’s been great to talk with these guys and get to know them and discuss what’s going on, and most importantly, work out," said Patrick Wisdom with the Chicago Cubs. "For me, just to be outside and throw some balls across the diamond."
Slater said players are prepared to get back in the game, whenever that may happen.
"Guys are ready, but guys are treating this as still the off-season work. Whether it be the first week of spring training in your club facility or out here, the work is going to be about the same. So guys are preparing," said Slater.
What are baseball fans saying about the end of the lockout?
Some baseball fans say they couldn't wait to see the players.
"With everything going on in the world, to not have baseball -- It’s America’s game. It's our pastime. It's so exciting to have that come back now," said Jeff Quinn.
Other fans, meanwhile, let their opinions on the lockout known.
"As fans, it seems like we are left high and dry on these kinds of things," said Dave Greiner of Des Moines, Iowa. "The big money people get what they want, but the fans kind of get stuck, but that just all went away here within the last half an hour. We didn’t know about it until we came into the store."
Greiner said he missed a spring training game he planned to go to, but is hoping to finally catch one while he is in the Phoenix area.
"We’ve got some other fans coming down from Iowa next, end of the month, and so, we will be back," said Greiner.
How did the lockout affect Arizona businesses?
According to an economic impact study by Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business, Spring Training provide an influx of more than $640 million into the local economy in 2018.
As the lockout continues, businesses in Arizona are missing out on potential revenue.
"It hurts the bottom line," said George Gebran, one of the partners with U.S. Egg.
Gebran said they usually have a huge influx of baseball fans, especially at a Scottsdale location that is located next to the stadium. The lockout changed all that.
"The big difference is the staffing right now," said Gebran. "We have six servers on the floor. Typically all March, we'd have nine servers. We have two bussers. We should have three. I've got four cooks back there, and I should have seven on a typical March."
Meanwhile, the owners of Willies Taco Joint and Crown Public House say they are ready for fans to came pouring back to Downtown Phoenix with a thirst for baseball, beer and bar food.
"We had a rough couple of years because of the pandemic," said Jason Bell with Crown Public House.
"We do want everyone to come down. It's a big time of year that we hire people for. It gets money flowing. It gets people coming out," said Hunter Katen with Willies Taco Joint.
The lack of games and fans at Chase Field will hurt a lot of people’s bottom line, as restaurant workers lose out on dollars when there are no baseball crowds eating and leaving tips.
"Everyone that comes down makes a difference for all of us," said Katen. "Waves of people come down, and we just haven't been seeing that lately."
Bell, meanwhile, is holding out hope that an agreement is made soon, but he says he is preparing for the possibility of no deals being made.
"I'm going to be checking the calendar more often on what Phoenix has for conventions," said Bell. "We also have [St. Patrick's Day] coming up, which will be good too."
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.
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