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MLB owners impose a lockout of players — baseball’s 9th work stoppage and the 1st since 1995 — as the collective bargaining agreement expires

Baseball’s hot stove league appears headed toward a deep freeze.

The collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the players union expired at 10:59 p.m. CST Wednesday. Revenue sharing and free agency are reportedly among the areas being discussed.

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Team owners reportedly voted unanimously Wednesday night to lock out players beginning just after midnight Eastern time. It’s baseball’s ninth work stoppage and the first since the strike that resulted in MLB canceling the 1994 World Series and playing a shortened 1995 season.

In a letter addressed to baseball fans posted on MLB.com, Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote that he’s “so disappointed about the situation in which our game finds itself today.”

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“I want to explain to you how we got here and why we have to take this action today,” Manfred wrote. “Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season. We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time.”

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark responded with a statement calling the lockout a “drastic and unnecessary measure.”

“We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership,” Clark said.

Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn is leaving the labor talk to others, but he did say during a Wednesday conference call with reporters: “Obviously it’s been a multi-decade run with labor peace, which has been incredible and a testament to both sides being able to get something done. I think everyone remains hopeful that at some point there will be an agreement that doesn’t impact the 2022 season.”

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A lockout puts a freeze on transactions such as free-agent signings.

The lead-up the last few days has seen a flurry of contracts worth more than $1.5 billion agreed to throughout the majors.

“It’s been a much quicker pace than we’ve seen in recent years, a very robust free-agent market over the last several weeks,” Hahn said. “I’d say that probably because of the pace of the free-agent market — which is frankly probably ahead of normal, probably on the other side of the winter meetings in terms of our normal pace of free-agent signings — trade talks have gone more slowly.

“I think most people’s focus has been on free agency. You’ve seen fewer trade acquisitions than we would normally see on Dec. 1. Those are obviously two of the byproducts of what potentially lies ahead.”

White Sox GM Rick Hahn watches players warm up before Game 3 of the ALDS against the Astros on Oct. 10 2021.
White Sox GM Rick Hahn watches players warm up before Game 3 of the ALDS against the Astros on Oct. 10 2021. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

The Sox announced one signing Wednesday, officially coming to terms on a three-year, $16.5 million contract with infielder/outfielder Leury García. They signed reliever Kendall Graveman to a three-year, $24 million deal Tuesday.

“We fully expect there to be further additions over the next several months and for the team to look better on opening day than it does today,” Hahn said, “and if we’re once again blessed with the ability to stay in contention through the summer, I suspect it’s going to look even better after the trade deadline than it looks on opening day.”

Starting and relief pitching, right field and second base are among the remaining priorities for the Sox this offseason. The question becomes when the activities of assembling a roster will begin again.

“No matter the time of year, we try to function in a way that we’re prepared to move quickly when an opportunity presents itself,” Hahn said. “We have an idea, whether it’s on the trade or free-agent front, what we feel is appropriate from a cost standpoint, and when those opportunities arise, we’re prepared to move.

“If it happens to be that things are on pause for a little bit, when we come back, we’ll be ready to go.”

The Cubs also finalized a deal Wednesday, hours before the CBA expired, inking right-hander Marcus Stroman to a three-year contract.

“I don’t think anyone had a real sense of how the market would play out when we started the offseason,” Cubs President Jed Hoyer said Wednesday night. “Over the last five or six years we’ve had pretty similar offseasons in the sense of timing, and obviously with the potential lockout, you never knew how people would react.

“We didn’t know if no one would make any signings or if it would be a flurry, and it ended up obviously being a flurry — and that flurry in particular was very focused on pitching.”

Once a lockout goes into effect, there cannot be communication between organizations — so no working ahead on trades — and coaches and front-office personnel are not allowed to communicate with players on the 40-man roster, who are part of the union. Players on the 40-man roster also cannot use team facilities, including training complexes in Arizona and Florida.

For the Cubs, the lockout will provide time for a front office featuring new general manager Carter Hawkins and assistant GM Ehsan Bokhari to continue to get to know the organization. More meetings can be held than is usual at this point in the offseason.

The transaction freeze will allow teams to assess the remaining free agents and outline their roster-building strategies coming out of the lockout. The unknown time frame of how long a lockout will last adds uncertainty to the equation. However, the general feeling around baseball is there will not be a quick resolution between MLB and the union.

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