Sources familiar with the situation told ESPN that Major League Baseball locked out its players early Thursday morning after months of talks failed to reach a new labor contract.
The league told the players' union that it would begin a work ban once the previous collective bargaining agreement expired. The industry is in a dark period because of the transaction frenzy that led up to its imposition.
During a labor-relations tool used by management to keep employees from working until a deal is agreed upon, team officials and players cannot communicate. Major league free agency and trades of players end immediately.
The union and league exchanged proposals in three days of bargaining that showed the chasm between the parties. The final talks between the leaders from both sides lasted seven minutes.
Since the 1994 World Series was wiped out by a players strike, the game's revenues have increased. The union and league were able to negotiate five new collective bargaining agreements without a work strike over the next 26 years.
Baseball is facing its ninth work stop and fourth work stop without an obvious path to a deal. In the days leading up to the labor dispute, players, owners and executives were reassured by the amount of money teams spent on free agents. The league and union made little headway in talks at the Four Seasons Dallas at Las Colinas, where the deal-making did not replicate itself.
The decision to lock out did not cause panic. Sources said that the next 90 or so days will be a more realistic runway for a deal than the lead-up to the end of the agreement. If the league and union want the same thing as happened in the past, they can strike a deal early in March.
According to sources, the hope for an 11th-hour agreement faded quickly. The union wants players to reach free agency more quickly and wants salary arbitration to come after a player's second season rather than his third. It was part of a proposal that mirrored the union's previous offers, which the league did not respond to.
MLB's previous proposal had done little to allay the union's concerns over artificial constraints on free agency, tanking, paying players more earlier in their careers and service-time manipulation. The league suggested a draft lottery to discourage teams from tanking to get a higher draft position, as well as removing direct draft-pick compensation. The top three picks would be covered by the lottery. The threshold was raised past the current $210 million mark to $214 million, which was far less than the union's proposal.
The proposal to move from 10 teams to 12 was not enough to satisfy MLB's desire for an expanded playoffs. While MLB is not opposed to paying players earlier in their careers, its desire to do so while keeping salaries flat remains a problematic sticking point amid discussions that follow years of industry revenue growing and an average salary that stayed steady.
Bruce Meyer, the union's chief negotiator, and MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem were at the talks. The league's labor-policy group, led by Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort, and the union's executive sub-committee, with Andrew Miller participating, were some of the principals in the bargaining.
The conversations were similar to last year's talks when the league and union tried to negotiate the shape of a season. Rob Manfred imposed a 60-game season instead of a negotiated settlement because of the different proposals from each side.
The parties have been able to work well together on ancillary issues, but they have not been able to agree on the core economics of the game. The coming months will be a good time for the parties to show where they can find common ground.
This is the closest recent lapse back into the ways of old baseball labor relations, in which the parties fought consistently, with work stoppages in 1972 (strike), 1973 (lockout), 1976 (lockout), 1980 (strike) and 1981 (strike). Time will tell if his era of labor is a turning point.