Newly signed New York Mets starter Max Scherzer offered a grim assessment of the state of negotiations between MLB and the players union in a press conference Wednesday, indicating that the sport was likely headed for a lockout just over 10 hours before the previous collective bargaining agreement was set to expire.
Scherzer, an association player representative on the MLBPA’s Executive Subcommittee, admitted that the Dec. 1 first deadline for the two sides to reach an agreement affected his own approach to free agency, pushing him to work out a deal before the owners could trigger a lockout.
“Being at a seat at the table and hearing the tone in negotiations, the lockout seems like it’s the very likely scenario,” Scherzer said. “If that’s a scenario, you have to make calculations for that and how you want to take free agency down. So obviously…you want to sign here before [the lockout and] remove that risk of that the lockout were to go deep into the offseason here that free agency would be limited, that you’d be really cramped outside of that.”
The players union is looking to make up lost ground after the 2016 CBA the league has operated under allowed player salaries to drop while team revenues soared. Though MLB’s players hold the distinction of being the only professional athletes in the four major North American sports to not be restricted by a salary cap, the sport’s middle class has been hurt the most by the current dynamic.
“That’s a specific thing that we’re negotiating on right now in that how teams view [the luxury tax threshold] as a cap and they won’t really spend too much over that despite the penalties on that being actually pretty negligible, comparatively,” Scherzer said.
According to Scherzer, the most critical focal point for the players union is creating better incentives for increased competition. Translation: cracking down on tanking.
“When you look at how the 2016 CBA agreement…has worked over the past five years, as players we see major problems with it,” Scherzer said. “Specifically, and first and foremost, we see a competition problem and how teams are behaving because of certain rules that are within that. And adjustments have to be made because of that in order to bring up the competition. So, as players, that’s absolutely critical to us to have a highly competitive league and when we don’t have that, we have issues.”
The relationship between MLB and the players union has been strenuous for decades, exacerbated by the failure to agree on a format for the 2020 season in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. MLB ended negotiations with the players just before 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday, all but ensuring a lockout would begin at midnight.
Should the lockout last into the season and beyond, Scherzer explained that the MLBPA has a “war chest” that will help players get through an extended period without pay. However, the right-hander expressed that he hopes things don’t get to that point.
For now, MLB's newest record-holder for AAV hopes baseball can recreate the free agent frenzy that’s seen over a billion dollars exchange hands since the offseason began.
“As for all the signings, this is actually kinda fun,” Scherzer said. “I’m a fan of the game and to watch everybody sign right now, to actually see teams competing in this timely fashion, it’s been refreshing because we’ve seen free agent freezes for the last several offseasons. I know it’s been frustrating as a fan to watch that. Like, when are these guys gonna sign? So to see teams actually calling in and having these calls because there’s this soft deadline per se, it’s actually been for me exciting to watch it across the league as well.”