On the last day before Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement with players expires, teams spent money like never before. The contract expires at 11:59pm EST Wednesday, CNBC reports. Talks broke off in the afternoon, per ESPN, and nobody involved was saying a deal was imminent. Unless the two sides agree in the last couple of hours on a new deal or extend the old one, the sport will have its first work stoppage since 1994, which canceled the World Series that year. During a lockout by the owners, per CBS, everything goes on hold. So on their last day of being in business as usual, the owners scooped up free agents.
For the first time, teams committed to more than $1 billion in salaries in one day, including six nine-figure contracts, per the AP. Javier Báez signed a $140 million, six-year contract with the Detroit Tigers, Max Scherzer a $130 million, three-year deal with the New York Mets, and Kevin Gausman a five-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays for $110 million. Scherzer, whose contract sets a record for highest average salary, per the AP, got into the spirit. "This is actually kind of fun," he said. "To watch everybody sign right now, to actually see teams competing in this kind of timely fashion, it's been refreshing because we've seen freezes for the past several offseasons."
But for the fourth straight time, the average MLB salary was lower on Opening Day than the year before. The few players at the top have their pick of teams, but veterans in the middle haven't found much of a market at contract time. So players want changes in the system, which has the owners counting down to a lockout, per the Wall Street Journal. Part of the reason for the gold rush Wednesday was that if the lockout continues into spring, signing free agents in a short period then could turn chaotic. So teams wanted to get their rosters locked in now. The fear in a work stoppage in sports is always that fans won't return. "I wouldn't fool around with that this in this time we're living in," one former team executive said. (Read more MLB stories.)