Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are planning a bargaining session Thursday, the first since the league closed to players on December 2, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN Tuesday.
MLB has reached out to the union to hold the meeting, as the league plans to present a proposal that touches on some core economic and competitive issues, according to the sources. The shutdown followed face-to-face meetings in Dallas, where the two sides made no progress on a new business deal as the previous collective bargaining agreement was expiring.
While the two parties met during December to discuss additional issues, the path to any final deal runs through the economics of sport, and the meeting could be a harbinger of the lengthy hiatus of the game’s first business in more than a quarter century.
Progress so far has been slow. The gap between the two sides is large, with players seeking big wins across the board through previous free agency and arbitration, a significant increase in the competitive balance tax threshold, players being paid bigger salaries at younger ages and new mechanisms to motivate teams to win. The league said it believes it is paying players an adequate amount in aggregate and seeks to achieve a better competitive balance and broaden its reach after the season.
The meetings in Dallas exemplified the path of bargaining thus far. The Federation submitted a proposal that mirrors its previous proposal. The association said on December 1 that it would file a counter-proposal if the association agreed to be excluded from discussions to reduce the time for players to have access to free agency and arbitration as well as any changes to revenue sharing. The union did not agree. League officials left the hotel where the bargaining was taking place, did not return and closed the players that night.
MLB previously offered changes that included removing direct draft pick compensation on top free agents, draft sweepstakes, and global designated hitters, and increasing the minimum CBT threshold and minimum salary. The federation, in its latest proposal, said it was open to extended matches – with 12 teams, as opposed to the league’s 14 teams seeking – and to allow the league to put advertising patches on shirts.
If the meeting puts the parties on a path toward a deal, it could save the on-time start of spring training, which sources on both sides have described in recent weeks as precarious. Bombers and hunters are scheduled to report to campgrounds in Arizona and Florida by mid-February, and the first games are scheduled to begin on February 26.
Regular season matches don’t start until March 31, and sources said that for the season to start on time, there should be a deal by around March 10. Because of the shutdown, a number of logistical issues – from over 100 free agents still without jobs to expired visas for players not from the US – will be prevalent and are expected to lead to a scramble no matter when the deal is closed.