Major League Baseball’s owners “will consider” instituting a player lockout if a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the MLB Player’s Association can’t be found, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The current CBA is set to expire on December 1st, and the sides are said to be at an impasse over several matters. This is the first time we’ve heard a firm report suggesting that there could be a work stoppage — though, of course, there’s no imminent threat to actual baseball games with Spring Training not set to begin until mid-February and the regular season still four months off. It has long been assumed that the owners and union would resolve any differences, particularly given that the game has continued to experience growth in revenue, but talks have dragged on longer than expected.

In considering a lockout, the owners would be threatening to interfere with the conduct of the offseason’s business, much of which remains to be completed. Some have suggested that a failure to reach agreement by the new deadline might result in a continuation of the status quo; presumably, that’s still also a possibility. But if a deal can’t be struck and the owners take a hard line, it might well result in a freeze on transactions right before the Winter Meetings.

It’s important to bear in mind that there are strategic reasons for suggesting the possibility of a lockout, which would require a vote of ownership to be instituted. And with just over a week left to finish negotiations, there’s still time for a resolution. Commissioner Rob Manfred says he’s still “committed to the idea that we’re going to make an agreement before expiration,” while union chief Tony Clark declined comment.

The sides are certainly jockeying for position on the remaining issues; no doubt, each is familiar with the other’s positions at this stage. The key matters yet to be determined are, however, rather notable. According to Rosenthal, the owners offered to get rid of any tying of free agents to draft compensation (as currently embodied in the qualifying offer system), but requested an international draft in exchange. The union, it seems, has lined up behind the idea that the draft would be too onerous.

There’s also disagreement regarding the competitive-balance tax and the Joint Drug Agreement. As to the former issue, it seems largely a matter of divvying up dollars and figuring out ways to ensure that teams put any subsidies into their major league roster. With regard to the latter, it seems that all are agreed on the need to add force to the JDA, but the players are asking to be compensated in exchange.

Rosenthal spoke with sources to get a read of the situation, and his article is well worth a full read. The takeaway seems to be that there’s still a path toward completing an agreement before the CBA expires, but the players are also prepared to dig in their heels. There’s certainly much to be lost for both sides in the event of a serious labor dispute, and that fact remains the best reason to retain hope that a lockout can be avoided. While this bit of brinkmanship is hardly determinitive, though, it’s also a notable sign that there have been real difficulties in seeing eye to eye.

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