While the frequency of talks between Major League Baseball and the Players Association picked up Wednesday, the pace of progress continued to be sloth-like and the likelihood of a 162-game season grew ever dimmer.
For the first time since the owners directed commissioner Rob Manfred to lock out the players on Dec. 2, the sides spent a third day in a row at the bargaining table. But MLB addressed only one of several core economic issues up for discussion, according to sources familiar with the meeting at a spring-training ballpark in Jupiter, Fla., and took a baby step in the players’ direction before engaging what amounted to a form of brinkmanship.
In a statement to reporters, an MLB spokesman doubled-down on the league’s Feb. 28 deadline by which a collective bargaining agreement must be reached to avoid pushing back a March 31 opening day and canceling games. If the season doesn’t start on time, players would begin missing paychecks and owners would lose revenue from missed games.
MLB and the union are expected to meet again Thursday, with the players set to volley a revision to their latest proposal.
The players have noted that the owners can rescind their lockout at any time, open spring training, and even begin the season while continuing to negotiate. It seems likely that the players would take expanded playoffs -- the owners’ most desired issue -- off the table if fewer than 162 games are played.
Players would lose a total of about $20.5 million each day the season is delayed, according to an Associated Press estimate. It’s unclear how much money the owners would lose per game missed.
San Francisco Giants pitcher Alex Wood reacted to MLB’s threat on Twitter.
“It’s fascinating MLB setting a hard deadline to play a full season for Monday,” Wood wrote. “They locked us out. Had barely any contact for two months post lockout. Have yet to make a single good faith offer to even initiate real conversations to get a deal done. Just make a real offer.”
MLB moved $10,000 per year on the minimum salary from its most recent pitch, sources said. But the sides are so far apart that, even with MLB’s adjustment, the minimum salary would top out at $680,000 in 2026, $95,000 less than the players’ requested minimum in 2022.
According to MLB’s updated proposal, the minimum salary would move to $640,000, a 12.2% hike from last season. It would move to $650,000 in 2023, $660,000 in 2024, $670,000 in 2025, and $680,000 in the final year of the agreement. The players are seeking $775,000 this year, $805,000 in 2023, $835,000 in 2024, $865,000 in 2025, and $895,000 in 2026.
Neither side has budged this week from its stance on the competitive-balance (luxury) tax, a key issue in the negotiations. The sides are also at odds over making more two-year players eligible for arbitration and the amount of money in a bonus pool for performance-based increases to pay for pre-arbitration players, among other topics.