Unlike most other leagues, Major League Baseball has seen a longstanding 21 years of labor peace. However, the current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on Dec. 1 and with no agreement in place, a potential lockout looms. A lockout would hurt a sport that saw an intense postseason with a historic victory from a young Chicago Cubs team – one that could spell exponential growth for the sport. Any labor stoppage would stunt that growth and upset loyal fans. The 1994 MLB strike helped the NFL become the most popular American sports league and another instance this upcoming season could have a similar impact.
The expected outcome is that both sides will drop any issues that would be significant changes from the previous contract – mostly the international draft – in order to secure a contract before the deadline. The most significant changes appear to be an increase in roster size from 25 to 26 throughout the regular season in exchange for a decrease in players called up in September, and an amendment to the free agency team compensation system where teams no longer forfeit a draft pick upon signing a player who declined a qualifying offer.
The dropping of the international draft is significant because it is a change that owners have been pushing for a long time. This would limit spending on international players due to prescribed bonuses being given to players drafted in each slot, such as Yoan Moncada, who received a bonus of $31.5 million dollars in 2015 despite a nearly 100 percent tax on the bonus. This hurts many players in third world countries who essentially have to live off these bonuses, and may never make it to the major leagues. These players already lose money to bonuses, academies and family.
The issue of expanding the year-long active roster is interesting and beneficial to teams for many reasons. This opens up many new possibilities for creative roster management, such as a six-man rotation or a having third catcher on the roster without the expense of another traditional role. Roster flexibility would be increased, allowing for more interesting in-game management. This could also bring an overall decrease some of the workload that pitchers face, which could help decrease injuries across the sport.
With a decrease in injuries, minor league players would have even less opportunities to make it to the major leagues. The path to the major leagues is made even more difficult by the limit of September call-ups. Looking at Kansas City Royals outfielder Terrance Gore – a lightning fast, light hitting role player who has only seen major league time in September – he is 19 for 21 in stolen bases, but has only seen nine plate appearances over three seasons. He has been used almost exclusively as a pinch runner. Gore’s career could be over after the new collective bargaining agreement is agreed upon. The Royals had no reason not to call Gore up as under current rules, teams can call up all 40 players on their 40-man roster. Now teams will be forced to select two or three of their remaining 14 players on their 40-man roster, limiting opportunities for players like Gore.
By removing the penalty of a draft pick for teams signing a free agent who has turned down a qualifying offer, teams will be more inclined to sign big-ticket free agents. This will increase the value of contracts given to players like Ian Desmond and Nelson Cruz, who declined the qualifying offer and were forced to accept one-year deals late in the offseason.
Overall, the new collective bargaining agreement should be better for major league players. However, both owners and the players union neglect minor league players and international amateurs in these discussions. These players need help more than the high-priced major league players that the union often aims to help. Minor league players are not represented by a union and are often overlooked in negotiations due to a lack of collective representation.