Major League Baseball owners are expected to lock players out this week after the current collective agreement expires on Dec. 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET. The lockout, which will be the MLB’s first stoppage since 1994-95, remains in place until a new CBA can be agreed and then ratified by the owners and the players union.
Given that it’s been nearly three decades since the league was last closed, you might be wondering what exactly that means for the hot stove. In the following, we’ve tried our best to answer five questions about the impending suspension and its impact on transactions.
1. Can free agents sign during the lockout?
Nope. You won’t see Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, or any other notable free agent put on paper during the lockdown. If you are a member of the MLB Players Association, you are not allowed to change teams during the work break. These players will have to wait for the new CBA to be ratified in order to sign it; depending on when the CBA is agreed, this could force them to make quick decisions.
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2. What about Seiya Suzuki?
Suzuki is outfielder at Hiroshima Toyo Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball. Not only is he the best international free agent available this winter, but he’s also one of the best available free agents overall and ranks 15th on our top 50 list. In a normal off-season, the MLB teams would only have 30 days after Suzuki was “dispatched” to reach an agreement with him; otherwise he would stay in Japan. However, during this off-season, Suzuki’s 30-day window is expected to be paused for as long as the work stoppage lasts, which will likely result in the process being stretched beyond its normal order.
3. How has the free agency been influenced so far?
It’s hard to say how much of the recent activity was caused by the impending lockout, and how much of it was due to the typical Thanksgiving rush to do deals. By Sunday, 10 of CBS Sports’ top 50 free agents had signed, including four of the top 25. The top of the market was left untouched as none of the top nine free agents approved deals, but that may soon change. League sources told CBS Sports on Saturday that Kevin Gausman was apparently close to a decision, while Max Scherzer also appears interested in finding a home before the lockdown. The impending work stoppage ensures at least that the off-season consists of two parts: this “pre” phase and then a more substantial “post” phase as soon as a new CBA is agreed.
4. Can teams make trades?
Yes and no. You won’t see deals involving players on the 40-player list or otherwise part of the union, but you could still see teams exchange perspectives. By and large, the smaller leagues are not affected by the lockout as they are not members of (and are not represented by) the MLB Players Association.
5. How long does the blocking last?
This is the big, unanswerable question, but insiders speaking to CBS Sports have suggested that time is in months rather than days or weeks. That doesn’t necessarily mean that spring training or the regular season will be affected; it means that most of the free agency and trade could be channeled into a small, hectic window. Note that without the CBA, the off-season could have continued as normal; It is the decision of the owners to lock out the players who bring everything to a standstill.