Sidelines: End of lockout/free agency

Madeline Marriott, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

The first pitch of 2022 MLB regular season is about to be thrown, and some big changes in the last few weeks will have rosters looking a bit different. 

The lockout, which came to an end on March 10 after 99 days of negotiations to reach a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), sent the baseball world into a whirlwind as it had significantly delayed spring training and free agency moves. A series of blockbuster trades followed the end of the lockout, including first baseman Freddie Freeman heading to the Los Angeles Dodgers after a long career with the Atlanta Braves, Kris Bryant heading from the San Francisco Giants to the Colorado Rockies, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, Trevor Story moving to the Boston Red Sox and many more. 

While the results of the lockout may seem to have little bearing on the season, the events of the last few months have changed the way teams build their rosters. Take my hometown team, the Phillies, for example. With the introduction of the universal designated hitter rule (DH) as part of the new CBA, teams can take a different approach to structure their lineup. The Phillies added two big bats to their roster: Schwarber and Castellanos. Neither player is known for their defensive skills, both had a negative defensive WAR, or dWAR, a metric that measures a player’s defensive value compared to a league-average player. 

After a subpar team-wide defensive performance last season, it seemed that the Phillies would be in the market for some fielding talent. However, the DH changes everything. The Phillies and teams like them seem to have decided that, since they now have an extra slot in the lineup to do some offensive damage, the potential for a 35 home-run season out of either of the players outweighs their mediocre defense. 

The updates to the competitive balance tax, more commonly known as the luxury tax, as cemented by the new CBA, are also reshaping the market. The luxury tax charges teams who exceed a certain amount of money in paying their players’ salaries in a given year. For the 2021 season, this threshold was $210 million. One of the sticking points of the negotiations was the level to which the threshold would be increased— MLB owners favored a modest increase, while the players’ association (MLBPA) lobbied for a sharper one.

This insistence from the players comes from the belief that players should be compensated more as team revenues increase.  According to Sportico, the tax threshold rose only 27% between 2009 and 2019, while the average team revenue jumped 78%. The sides settled on a $230 million threshold this year with slight increases in the following years. 

I don’t have many groundbreaking thoughts on this aspect of the arbitration, I’m all for players being compensated accordingly for their production, but it was frustrating to follow day after day of fruitless negotiations when the only possible outcomes were the one party of rich people getting richer or the other party of rich people getting richer.

What I do know is that teams who made their biggest moves after the increase was confirmed had more room to operate in salary negotiations without fear of penalty. Although some big-market teams still broke the barrier, others were able to offer better contracts while staying under the limit. 

I look forward to seeing how the new changes shake out this season. With an expanded playoff pool and the designated hitter making its debut in the National League, 2022 should be full of exciting baseball.