NEW YORK – The start of spring training will likely be a casualty of the Major League Baseball lockout that will threaten Opening Day if the lengthy talks don’t result in an agreement in less than a month.
After half a year of arguing about the economics of the sport, baseball’s warring factions couldn’t even agree on whether they should have an arbitrator.
The Major League Baseball Players Association ruled out third-party intervention on Friday, a day after MLB asked the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for help.
“Two months after implementing their lockout and just two days after promising players a counter-proposal would be made, the owners refused to make a counter-proposal and instead requested mediation,” the union said in a statement .
“After consultation with our Board of Directors and taking into account various factors, we have declined this request. The clearest route to a fair and timely settlement is to get back to the table. The players stand ready to negotiate.”
The owners suspended the players on December 2, just after a five-year contract expired. Since then, on January 24th and 25th and last Tuesday, there have only been three face-to-face negotiation sessions on core economic issues, as well as one digital session on January 13th. The sides are still far apart.
“With the camps scheduled to open in less than two weeks, it is time to receive immediate assistance from the Federal Mediation and Arbitration Service to help us work through our differences and break the deadlock,” MLB said in an explanation.
“It is clear that the most productive way forward would be to bring in an impartial third party to fill in gaps and facilitate an agreement,” the league said. “It is difficult to understand why a party seeking a settlement would refuse mediation from the federal agency specifically tasked with resolving these disputes, including many achievements in professional sports.”
No negotiation sessions are planned for priority economic issues. The sides met three times this week on non-core issues.
“We don’t need mediation because what we’re offering to MLB is fair to both parties,” tweeted pitcher Max Scherzer, who agreed to a three-year, $130 million contract with the New York Mets the day before the lockout.
“We want a system where thresholds and penalties do not act as caps, allows younger players to realize more of their market value, manipulation of service time is a thing of the past, and tanking as a winning strategy is eliminated,” Scherzer wrote.
Players blame the owners for the lockout. Commissioner Rob Manfred said his team is proactive and doesn’t want to risk a late-season strike similar to the one that wiped out the 1994 World Series.
Gamers are upset that payrolls fell to $4.05 billion last year, the lowest in a fully completed year since 2015. They are calling for expanded payroll arbitration authority, a significant increase in luxury tax thresholds and minimum wages, a reduction in revenue sharing and new rules to prevent clubs from allegedly manipulating service time.
The teams say they will not expand the arbitration or reduce revenue sharing and that intensive negotiations over the luxury tax are the final stage of negotiations.
The lockout entered its 65th day on Friday and shows all signs of stretching beyond the scheduled February 16 start of spring training. With a minimum of three weeks of practice and exhibition play required, and players required to report for several days, camps and go through COVID-19 protocols, opening day on March 31 is threatened if no agreement is reached by late February or early March will.
Next week, when the owners are scheduled to meet in Orlando, Fla. Tuesday through Thursday, there’s little chance of negotiations. Management’s negotiating team is expected to attend the Orlando meeting.
Players only begin accumulating salaries on Opening Day, and teams generate a large portion of their earnings from Opening Day through the World Series.
Baseball’s ninth work stoppage is the first in a series of strikes and lockouts that set the sport back from 1972-1995.
The Players’ Association has provided $5,000 in stipends to its members out of $178.5 million in cash, U.S. Treasury securities and investments available as of December 31, 2020, as per their latest form filed with the U.S. Department of Labor for the disclosure of financial data.
There are large income differences between players. Of the 1,670 players who played in the major leagues last year, 1,145 made under $1 million, including 771 under $500,000 and 241 under $100,000.
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