For about an hour Saturday, key negotiators and attorneys for Major League Baseball and the players’ union met at the league’s office in Manhattan. A few owners and players joined virtually. It was the fifth time since MLB locked out players Dec. 2 that the sides have met over key economic hurdles to a new labor deal.
Even though MLB made a proposal that supported the union on a number of issues, the initial reaction from players was that many of their concerns remained insufficiently addressed. And so, while neither side is saying so publicly, it’s clear that a last-minute deal hasn’t been reached and spring training won’t start as scheduled on Wednesday.
It remains to be seen whether the regular season will actually begin on March 31, and whether a late start would shorten the season.
MLB’s latest proposal came in the first meeting of the parties in 11 days. After the players offered their latest proposal on Feb. 1, MLB requested the intervention of an outside federal mediator — whose help would be non-binding and voluntary — because the league was frustrated with the pace of progress. The union rejected the move because it felt the league should return to the bargaining table and make a counter offer.
So on Saturday, days after MLB officials and owners of all 30 clubs gathered in Florida for their quarterly meetings, the league made the proposal that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said was “positive.” in good faith “.
Among the areas in which MLB has improved its offer to players: it has proposed to further increase minimum salaries, increase the size of the bonus pool for top players not yet eligible for salary arbitration (from 10 million to $15 million) and adjust its stance on the luxury tax system (raising its proposed thresholds by $2 million in each of the past three years, ending at $222 million, and removing the third round penalty for exceeding the first level). The first threshold was $210 million in 2021, and the league offered $214 million for 2022, while the union requested $245 million.
Among the areas where MLB has remained steadfast are the revenue-sharing system between clubs and the number of players eligible for salary arbitration — which the union has sought to change or expand. And despite changes made by MLB on Saturday, the union has repeatedly had concerns with the league still proposing to double luxury tax rates (up to 100% at the highest level) and the loss of a choice of second or first round to go respectively on the second and third thresholds.
Overall, the union has sought a series of improvements to the economic structure of the sport, with the aim of helping young players, improving competition between teams, limiting the manipulation of service time and inject more spending. The league, however, believes players have a fair system with no strict salary caps and sees it as a matter of wealth distribution – which star players disproportionately command more than others.
On Saturday, MLB also presented the union with a 130-page memorandum of understanding that included the basic structure of a new labor agreement and the issues they had agreed to. (Teams found common ground, for example, in expanding the playoffs and a universal designated hitter.)
Earlier in the week, Manfred declined to announce a postponement of spring training until the baseball schedule was discussed with the union at Saturday’s meeting. The parties did so in Manhattan, with MLB presenting the union with its views on when a deal should be reached.
While the details weren’t immediately clear, Manfred had provided some clues. He said earlier in the week that a minimum spring training length of four weeks made sense in order to avoid the spike in injuries suffered before the 2020 regular season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. Reading between the lines: A new deal would be needed by the first week of March to start the regular season as planned.
The biggest economic casualty of delayed spring training — pitchers and catchers were scheduled to start arriving Wednesday for what was supposed to be six weeks of camp — may be the annual exhibition games. These are expected to begin on February 26.