MLB cancels games as Rob Manfred announces lockout will delay 2022 opening day

JUPITER, Fla. — The 2022 Major League Baseball season will not start on time, according to commissioner Rob Manfred.

"I had hoped against hope that I would not have to have this particular press conference in which I am going to cancel some regular season games," Manfred said Tuesday afternoon.

“The calendar dictates that we're not going to be able to play the first two series of the regular season and those games are officially canceled,” he said, setting up the first disruption to the MLB regular season from a work stoppage since the 1994-95 strike.

MLB players association executive director Tony Clark later called it “a sad day.”

On the 90th day of an owner-implemented lockout and the ninth straight day of in-person bargaining, the league and union were unable to reach a mutually tolerable collective bargaining agreement. A full package proposal made by MLB before its own self-imposed deadline was rejected by the union, which did not see a point in countering what it was told was a “best and final” offer.

Later, however, in his news conference, Manfred said that the league’s position has “a little wiggle room somewhere.”

MLB initially identified Monday as the deadline to get a deal done that would ensure an on-time start to the season. Opening day had been scheduled for March 31. After a super-condensed ramp up ahead of the 2020 restart resulted in an uptick in injuries, the league reasoned that at least four weeks were needed for spring training, drawing a hard deadline at Monday.

Or, at least, that was the explanation behind a threat made publicly and privately to start canceling games and refuse to reschedule them — or pay players for them — if the two sides could not reach an accord by then.

With the season ostensibly on the line, the two sides met for over 16 hours, well into Tuesday morning, ending close enough by MLB’s estimation to stave off disaster and try again in the daylight. MLB left expecting the players to come back with a new proposal on the competitive balance tax. The union left still concerned about large gaps on core economic issues.

MLB announced the 2022 season will not start on time after negotiations failed to reach a deal to end the lockout. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MLB announced the 2022 season will not start on time after negotiations failed to reach a deal to end the lockout. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Those were thrown into sharp relief as tensions rose when the parties reconvened Tuesday. After a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with player representatives, the union delivered an oral offer.

On the critical competitive balance tax, the union’s proposed thresholds are:

  • 2022: $238 million

  • 2023: $244 million

  • 2024: $250 million

  • 2025: $256 million

  • 2026: $263 million

After what he deemed a productive day on Monday, an MLB official accused the union of arriving Tuesday with a changed tone and “proposals inconsistent with the prior discussions.”

The union disputed that characterization, but just after 3:30 p.m. ET, the league delivered its self-described “last best” proposal.

In it, MLB didn’t budge from its earlier CBT offer in the early hours of Tuesday morning. It would set the threshold at $220 million for the first three seasons and elevate it to only $230 million for 2026.

On the bonus pool for pre-arbitration players, designed to reward the league’s swelling ranks of productive young talent, the union came down from a previous proposal to pitch an $85 million central pool that would rise by $5 million each season. The league’s final proposal was a flat $30 million pool, but accepted the union’s pitch to include the top 150 pre-arbitration players.

On the major-league minimum salary, the union proposed $725,000 for 2022 with $20,000 increases in 2023 and 2024, followed by increases tied to the Consumer Price Index. MLB’s final offer was for $700,000, rising to $740,000 over the life of the CBA.

The MLB offer included the universal designated hitter, a 12-team postseason field, an international draft and a lottery for the top five MLB draft picks. It also would attempt to address service time manipulation by awarding a full year of service to the players who finish first and second in each league’s Rookie of the Year voting, and by offering draft pick compensation to teams that carry top prospects on their opening day rosters who go on to meet certain criteria.

Players have consistently maintained that the league’s deadlines are a tactic designed to add artificial pressure and rush them into an unfair deal.

Later, Clark emphasized that the union, recognizing the radical scope of change it’s seeking and considers necessary, has been willing and ready to negotiate for almost a year now.

“It is remarkably interesting against the backdrop of the things that needed to be worked through to find ourselves on Feb. 28, and over the course of the last week in West Palm Beach, working through the issues that quite honestly needed to be and could have been and should have been discussed in more depth much earlier than they were,” he said.

Instead, MLB managed to foist upon the players the decision to either hold out for better terms or be held accountable when the league canceled opening day.

The union immediately convened a call of all the player representatives to discuss the offer and decide how to respond. They agreed quickly and unanimously to reject the offer.

Now, both sides will head home to regroup. But bargaining will have to continue, and the season itself will become a subject of negotiation. Manfred said MLB's position is that the canceled games, a total of 91 right now, will not be made up and players will not be paid.

MLBPA’s lead negotiator Bruce Meyer explained at the union’s press conference that their position is that in order for a deal to be reached, missed games will need to be rescheduled and/or players will need to be compensated in full.

Asked how long they were prepared to fight for what players consider to be a fair deal, free agent pitcher and member of the MLBPA executive subcommittee Andrew Miller offered a simple, unequivocal assessment.

“We’re prepared.”