As the owner-imposed MLB lockout marches on toward the new year, fresh off an exhilarating 2021 season, baseball fans are waiting to see what happens once owners and players actually start negotiations. In the meantime, we're left discussing prospects, the Hall of Fame or the signing flurry that happened right before the unnecessary lockout.
We could also discuss player salaries. The Associated Press released a report this week on MLB payrolls that shows the 2021 player salaries were the lowest they've been since 2016 and that there's been a steady decline since 2017. The 2021 collective player salaries were 4.6 percent lower in 2021 than 2017.
Tossing out the shortened 2020 season for obvious reasons, here's where player compensation ended up from 2016-21:
- 2016: $4.07 billion
- 2017: $4.25B
- 2018: $4.23B
- 2019: $4.22B
- 2021: $4.05B
This will certainly be a point of contention on the player side in negotiations over a new CBA.
The mitigating circumstances will include the COVID-19 shutdown of 2020 and then a 60-game season without fans. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said that the teams collectively suffered $3 billion in losses in operating income in 2020, though there's no way to verify that since the owners haven't opened up their books. We also don't know how much they made back in 2021.
The players will surely go back to the well with the statement that owners -- while supposedly being the ones who take on "risk" -- wish to privatize profits and socialize losses.
There's also the decline in collective player salary before the pandemic hit. A good number of players on top end are still getting paid, but the player contention in these CBA talks is the players being left behind are those below the elite level, especially the tier of players that never reach free agency or even arbitration. That's the overwhelming majority of the MLBPA.
In the meantime, the ones actually left funding this league -- the fans -- are left waiting on the two sides to get together and iron everything out. Here's hoping they do so in January.