On the eve of Game 1 of the 2021 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros, it is “almost certain” that Major League Baseball is hurdling toward its first work stoppage since the 1994-95 players strike this winter, according to a report from Ronald Bloom of the Associated Press.
MLB’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) — which is a mutually agreed-upon document between the players and team owners governing all facets of their relationship — expires on Dec. 1. But with fruitless negotiations taking place since last spring, baseball could very well grind to a halt the moment the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 2.
The players will be looking to address a multitude of issues that have hankered their income over the years — which may sound trivial considering the massive salaries that headline the game.
A hot-topic issue will be service time manipulation, which has seen teams hold their top prospects in the minor leagues to ensure they get an extra year of MLB service time before hitting free agency. Per Bloom, MLB teams have proposed eliminating salary arbitration while allowing players to hit the free-agent market after they turn 29.5 instead of having to accrue six seasons of MLB service time.
With that, however, teams are also looking to decrease the luxury tax threshold by nearly $30 million, from $210 million to $180 million while instituting a salary cap floor that would deter teams from “tanking.”
The players view the decrease in the luxury tax threshold (also known as the competitive balance tax or CBT) as a stricter form of a salary cap, though, which would limit the maximum earnings of their contracts. Team owners’ resolution to stay under that threshold especially in recent years has seen a considerable drop in average MLB salaries from just over $4 million in 2017 to a projected $3.7 million in 2021, per Bloom.
Such uncertainties surrounding the CBT only foreshadow more difficulties for free agents this season. If owners don’t know how much money they can spend without being penalized, there would be understandable hesitancy to dole out big contracts for the likes of Carlos Correa or Kris Bryant, who are eligible to sign new deals six days after the completion of the World Series.
Under such circumstances, MLB’s traditional hot stove season that begins in December would be put on ice, setting up a mad scramble in the new year should the players and teams not find a resolution.
If recent history suggests anything, then expectations should be low. Club owners and the MLB Players Association could not come to an agreement to return to play after the 2020 season was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disputes based on player revenue pushed the potential season opener back from a potential Memorial Day start to the end of July.