Shortly after the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and its players’ union, owners officially locked out the players early Thursday morning, the sport’s first work stoppage since the 1994-95 strike.
The divide between the two sides comes more than three months before the scheduled start of spring training, leaving them time to come to an agreement before any portion of the league’s 162-game regular-season schedule is put at risk. For the Orioles, the issues preventing a new CBA could have a direct impact on them and the pace of their rebuild.
Players, according to multiple media reports, are hoping to disincentivize so-called tanking, where teams put little effort toward building a competitive major league roster while having diminished payrolls. The Orioles have lost at least 108 games three of the past four seasons, though they entered the 2018 campaign with aspirations of contending. Their projected 2022 salary, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, is the lowest in the American League and 29th of MLB’s 30 teams. An implementation of a salary floor of some sort would likely force the Orioles to become aggressive in adding free agents once the lockout is lifted.
The union also reportedly hopes to put an end to service time manipulation, where teams open the regular season with their top prospects in the minors despite their apparent readiness for the major leagues in hopes of delaying their eventual reaching of free agency. By virtue of their 115-loss 2018 season, the Orioles had the first overall pick in the 2019 draft and selected Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, who has since become baseball’s top overall prospect according to several publications. Baltimore currently does not have any catchers on its 40-man roster, and although Rutschman might be prepared to play in the majors after spending the final months of the 2021 season in Triple-A, having him open the season in the majors rather than spending some additional time in Norfolk could cost the Orioles a year of control down the line under the previous CBA.
Among the owners’ desires is an expanded playoff field, which was part of the agreement between them and the players for the shortened 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Orioles remained in the hunt for that larger postseason until late in the year, still ending up with a top five draft pick. A permanent playoff field of a dozen to 14 teams, compared with 10 in 2021, could make a return to the postseason easier for Baltimore.
The league and union’s previous agreement also rewards teams for poor performance by ordering draft selections based on which teams had the worst records in the previous season. The Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks both went 52-110 in 2021 and had matching 25-35 records in 2020, but Baltimore had the worst record in 2019, which serves as a tiebreaker for it to receive the first overall pick in 2022. The players are reportedly hoping for an alteration to this system such that teams don’t benefit from consecutive dreary seasons, while others trying to contend receive some form of draft compensation as a result.
In terms of the lockout itself, a transaction freeze is in place, and team officials are prevented from interacting with members of their club’s 40-man roster. The Orioles on Tuesday tendered contracts to arbitration-eligible players Trey Mancini, John Means and Tanner Scott, but with the lockout in place, they are unable to continue negotiating with these players and their agents to determine their 2022 salaries.
The Orioles will also be unable to sign major league free agents during a lockout. Minutes after the CBA expired and the owners locked out the players, The Athletic reported that the Orioles agreed to a one-year, $7 million deal including a 2023 team option with right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles, but given the timing, the contract won’t be official until Lyles takes a physical after the lockout. The 31-year-old, a 2008 first-round pick by the Houston Astros, has a career 5.21 ERA.
Including Tuesday’s signing of infielder Rougned Odor, Baltimore has yet to sign a player to a guaranteed multi-year deal in the more than three years executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has led their baseball operations department.
The team theoretically could still address its pitching and catching needs by signing minor league free agents, which are permitted, as those players won’t be on the 40-man roster. Likewise, trades involving players not on the 40-man roster are allowed during the lockout. Team officials theoretically could agree to trades involving major league players throughout this period and hold off on making them official until the lockout has ended.
Should the lockout extend into the regular season, the minor leagues would continue as scheduled, with the expectation that minor league players on their teams’ 40-man rosters would not participate. The Orioles’ top two prospects, Rutschman and right-handed pitcher Grayson Rodriguez, are not on their 40-man roster, but their third-ranked prospect, left-hander DL Hall, was among the six minor leaguers they recently added to the roster to prevent them being selected in the Rule 5 draft, which, as with the rest of the major league aspects of the winter meetings, would not occur during a lockout.