Last month, Evan Drellich of the Athletic reported that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association weren’t expected to discuss core economics issues until after the New Year. The calendar has since flipped, but there still don’t seem to be any talks on the horizon. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (on Twitter) that there is currently no schedule for the next set of collective bargaining discussions.
Nightengale adds that the parties have met twice since MLB instituted a lockout in the early morning hours of December 2. Those talks, as expected, were strictly regarding issues not related to core economics. It’s those key economic issues (i.e. the game’s service time structure, the competitive balance tax and potential playoff expansion) that are of greatest importance to both sides. Finding a mutually agreeable solution on such topics figures to be the most time-consuming and difficult aspect of negotiations.
In the aftermath of the lockout, both commissioner Rob Manfred and key members of the MLBPA (including executive director Tony Clark, lead negotiator Bruce Meyer and players with leadership roles in the union) have expressed a desire to get back to the bargaining table. That hasn’t happened in earnest over the past four weeks, although it’s not clear talks would’ve achieved much regardless. Drellich wrote last month that individuals on both sides believed that December discussions on core economics would likely have only resulted in negotiators “saying the same things to each other over and over.”
Instead, it seems that there’ll need to be an approaching deadline that spurs conversation. At this point on the calendar, neither side is dealing with the level of financial pressure they’d face if the threat of game cancelations became more tangible. The league’s owners aren’t in imminent danger of losing gate revenues, while the players aren’t yet faced with the possibility of foregoing game checks.
Spring Training games are first scheduled to begin on February 26. Players aren’t paid for Spring Training, but owners would first face lost revenues at that point. If the work stoppage lingers long enough into Spring Training that regular season games are threatened — at least some form of exhibition play, even if abbreviated, will be required for players to work their way into game shape — then the possibility of lost income for players looms larger. Of course, current free agents (and a few players in DFA limbo) are faced with ongoing employment uncertainty due to the ban on major league transactions.
For now, it doesn’t seem those scenarios are imminent enough to push the parties back to the negotiating table. It does seem, however, that significant progress will have to be made at some point during this month. Shortly after the institution of the lockout, Nightengale suggested the sides viewed February 1 as a “soft deadline” for a new CBA to be in place in order to avoid interruptions to Spring Training. He floated March 1 as a possible deadline for regular season play to proceed on schedule given the need for some form of ramp-up period. Opening Day is currently scheduled for March 31.