For the first time since the owners locked out the players on Dec. 2, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) will meet on Thursday to discuss the issues that need the most attention before a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed.
According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, MLB reached out to the MLBPA to set up the meeting, and will present a proposal that "touches on some core economic and competitive issues." Thus far, only non-critical issues have been discussed between the two sides since the lockout began over 40 days ago.
In other words, the process has been painfully slow.
With the calendar rapidly approaching the time when pitchers and catchers are supposed to report to spring training, urgency is expected to increase. How quickly it will increase it a whole other obstacle entirely.
MLB and the MLBPA are significantly far apart on several issues regarding the game's core economics. Players are seeking an overall win after the owners had their way in the two previous CBAs, and are demanding changes like earlier free agency and salary arbitration, a large increase to the Competitive Balance Tax threshold (luxury tax), higher salaries for younger players and concrete steps to discourage tanking.
Conversely, owners believe players are compensated sufficiently enough overall and want to expand the postseason to 14 teams. While owners and players both want better competitive balance, the two sides do not have similar plans to solve the issue.
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The disunity between MLB and the MLBPA is well documented, and is just as prevalent as it was when the two sides failed to come to an agreement to restart the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The last meeting in Dallas on Dec. 1 displayed the same strife when league said it would offer a counterproposal to the union, but only if the MLBPA agreed to remove early free agency and salary arbitration from the conversation, along with any changes to revenue sharing. The union immediately disagreed, and league officials left the hotel after the seven-minute meeting.
Since then, the movement of either side toward compromise has been minimal, at best. In MLB's last proposal, they included a minimal raise of the CBT threshold, the removal of direct draft pick compensation on free agents through the qualifying offer system, a draft lottery, a universal designated hitter and a higher minimum salary. In the MLBPA's last proposal, said it was open to expanded playoffs, but only to 12 teams. Passan reports the players also agreed to allow the league to put advertising patches on jerseys.
The hope this time around is the calendar will apply enough pressure for one side to cave, even just a little bit. If Thursday's meeting is fruitful, spring training can likely still go on as scheduled. However, Passan reports that sources on both sides believe spring training is "in peril." He also reports that in order for the season to start on March 31 as scheduled, an agreement must be in place by early March.
Even after a new CBA is signed, well more than 100 free agents need time to sign with clubs, players from outside the United States will need time to renew their visas and clubs have a slew of offseason objectives to tackle, including the trade market, salary arbitration and potentially the big league portion of the Rule 5 draft. In addition, the rising cases of COVID-19 will warrant a long and extensive look at establishing protocols to keep players and staff as safe as possible.
There is still a long road ahead to a new CBA. Any kind of breakthrough on Thursday would inject optimism into the industry. If the same kind of discord remains, those with booked plans for spring training might need some travel insurance.
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