Pitchers and catchers are supposed to report to camp in one week. However, with Major League Baseball still in its ninth work stoppage, it's all but guaranteed that spring training will be delayed.
Negotiations toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement have moved at a glacial pace. The owners unanimously voted to lock out the players, which went into effect at 12:02 a.m. EST on Dec. 2, and MLB allowed six weeks go by before they called the MLB Players Association to the bargaining table. As expected, the handful of meetings since then have produced very little progress.
What's more, the tension between the two sides has continued to escalate. After the previous meeting eight days ago—which one source described as a "yelling match"—the league went back on its word to offer a counterproposal and instead requested that a federal mediator step in to help expedite negotiations. The union has the right to accept or reject the request, and with the way federal mediation failed during the 1994-95 strike, the union swiftly chose the latter.
The two sides have not met since. And as of the time this story is published, they do not have any scheduled bargaining sessions.
This week, the owners are holding their regularly scheduled quarterly meetings in Florida. Commissioner Rob Manfred typically holds a press conference at the end of these meetings, and he is expected to uphold that tradition when meetings conclude on Thursday. Manfred will most likely address spring training's start date, and most importantly, where the owners stand in the current state of negotiations.
Meanwhile, MLBPA officials are meeting with players this week in Arizona and Florida. The players ended up on the wrong side of the past two CBAs, and have thus far been resilient in their fight for certain changes to the game's economics and competitive integrity.
As the two sides have taken time to regroup, the MLBPA seems to be maintaining their resolve. New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole took to Twitter after a union meeting in Arizona.
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"I was at our PA meeting in AZ and it was exciting to see solidarity this high. We had 100+ players show up and are united to protect the integrity of the game."
The two sides have been able to find some common ground, but it has been minimal to this point. MLB and the MLBPA have both made proposals that would implement a draft lottery and curb service time manipulation. They also agree the league's minimum salary needs to be raised and pre-arbitration players need to be better compensated. However, they are immensely far apart on the details.
Each side has also made their first concessions, with the players giving up their fight for earlier free agency and the league scrapping their effort to replace the salary arbitration system with a formula-based model.
However, the Competitive Balance Tax remains a colossal hurdle and will likely be the key domino to fall before a new CBA is agreed upon. Recent practices by clubs have made the CBT threshold a de facto salary cap, with fewer clubs willing to pay the penalties for surpassing it.
The problem (at least, for the players)? Cap systems come with a salary floor. Since MLB does not have one, there are no payroll minimums for clubs, which leaves significant financial disparity between the top and bottom (in terms of on-field payroll).
Thursday will be the first time Rob Manfred has made public comments on the lockout since he addressed the media on Dec. 2 and published his "letter to baseball fans" just minutes into the lockout. With the players digging in on their stances, Manfred's words will be highly anticipated. The commissioner, after all, works for the owners. If they are willing to bend a little, the end of the lockout could come sooner rather than later.
However, if the owners are just as resolute as the players, it might be time to seriously worry about Opening Day.
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