JUPITER, Fla. – With one day left before Major League Baseball’s deadline to salvage a March 31 start to the regular season, representatives for the league and union paused exchanging formal proposals Sunday and instead held a series of small meetings probing for what it would take to reach a deal.
The sides head into Monday’s league-mandated deadline day set to negotiate for the eighth straight day, which is progress given they had just six sessions on central economics from the start of the lockout Dec. 2 through Feb. 20.
They were still far apart, but pressure is increasing. Players would lose $20.5 million in salary for each day of the season that is canceled, according to a study by The Associated Press, and the 30 teams would lose large sums that are harder to pin down.
Talks at Roger Dean Stadium, the spring training home of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, recessed around 7 p.m. Sunday and are set to resume at 10 a.m. Monday, an earlier start time than other meetings over the past week.
MLB has said Monday, the 89th day of the lockout, is the last day to reach a deal that would preserve a 162-game schedule, but it has not fixed an exact time to the deadline. That leads to the possibilty of bargaining sessions stretching into the wee hours if both sides see a deal within reach.
Monday was picked as a deadline because MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says at least 28 days of training are needed before the season starts. The union has not said whether it agrees, and baseball has shortened spring training to as few as three weeks in the past.
Baseball’s ninth work stoppage started Dec. 2. Spring training games were to have begun Saturday and already have been canceled through March 7.
Players and owners did not meet directly.
Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem telephoned union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer on Sunday morning and asked for a 1-on-1 session in place of the scheduled larger group gathering.
That started a series of four short meetings characterized as an exchange of ideas that gave the union and MLB a better idea of the tradeoffs it would take to reach the endpoint of bargaining that began last spring and resulted in the sport’s first work stoppage since 1995.
Players and teams enter deadline day far apart on many key issues and unresolved on others. The most contentious proposals involve luxury tax thresholds and rates, the size of a new bonus pool for pre-arbitration players, minimum salaries, salary arbitration eligibility and the union’s desire to change the club revenue sharing formula.
In addition, MLB has tied the elimination of direct free-agent compensation to players agreeing to higher luxury tax rates and still wants to expand the playoffs to 14 teams rather than the union’s preference for 12. MLB also has kept its proposal for an international amateur draft on the table.
MLB executive vice president Morgan Sword, senior vice president Patrick Houlihan and vice president Reed MacPhail – a trio of officials familiar with many of the details of the intricate collective bargaining agreement – also met with the union. The expired contract numbered 359 pages plus separate deals covering benefits, joint drug rules and dealing with domestic violence allegations. There also are COVID-19 protocols.
Not since Aug 30, 2002, has MLB come this close to losing regular-season games to labor strife. The union was set to strike at 3:20 p.m. but roughly 25 consecutive hours of meetings and caucuses culminated in an agreement at 11:45 a.m.
Bargaining has not had that type of frequency this year but has gained momentum since talks shifted from New York to Florida last week.
MLB is offering to raise the luxury tax threshold from $210 million last season to $214 million this year, increasing it to $220 million by 2026. Teams also want higher tax rates, which the union says would tend to act like a salary cap.
Players have asked for a $245 million threshold this year, rising to $273 million by the final season.
The union wants to expand arbitration to include the top 35% by service time of players with at least two seasons of major league service and less than three, up from the 22% cutoff in place since 2013.
The union proposed the pre-arbitration pool have $115 million distributed to 150 players and management wants $20 million to be split among 30.