Major League Baseball announced Friday that Spring Training games will not begin until at least March 5. A delay to the start of Spring Training was a foregone conclusion amid the ongoing labor strife between the league and the players association, but today’s announcement now makes the delayed schedule official.
“We regret that, without a collective bargaining agreement in place, we must postpone the start of Spring Training games until no earlier than Saturday, March 5th,” MLB said in a statement. “All 30 clubs are unified in their strong desire to bring players back to the field and fans back to the stands. The Clubs have adopted a uniform policy that provides an option for full refunds for fans who have purchased tickets from the Clubs to any Spring Training games that are not taking place.”
There’s no clear timetable for when the two parties might reach a resolution. Headway of any kind has been nonexistent to this point, with yesterday’s meeting between MLB and the MLBPA reportedly lasting just 15 minutes. The league confirmed in today’s statement, however, that the parties will be back at the table on Monday and expect to negotiate daily throughout the week.
“We are committed to reaching an agreement that is fair to each side,” MLB’s statement reads. “On Monday, members of the owners’ bargaining committee will join an in-person meeting with the Players Association and remain every day next week to negotiate and work hard towards starting the season on time.”
Daily meetings between the two sides next week would be the closest thing to urgency displayed since the lockout was implemented on Dec. 2. Commissioner Rob Manfred described the lockout as a means of “jumpstarting” negotiations, but the league then waited more than six weeks to send a counteroffer to the union. In total, since the lockout was implemented more than 11 weeks ago, the two parties have had a reported six in-person meetings. Meeting on a daily basis next week nearly doubles that total.
Fans, of course, have rightly expressed considerable frustration with the lack of progress and, perhaps even more confounding, the lack of actual negotiating between the two parties. The delay to the beginning of the spring schedule is the clearest indicator yet of a legitimate possibility that regular-season games will be lost to the discord. Manfred last week called the potential for lost regular-season games a “disastrous outcome for the industry” before expressing optimism that Opening Day would take place on March 31, as scheduled.
Manfred added that the league would “ideally” like to get in a four-week Spring Training, though the chances of that appear slim. An agreement would likely need to be reached at some point next week, which would then give teams and players a week (or a bit more) to report to camp and gear up for games beginning on or around the March 5 date cited in today’s announcement. Even that would leave clubs with a bit shy of four weeks of exhibition games, but a March 5 kickoff for Cactus League and Grapefruit League play would ultimately “only” result in about a week’s worth of lost spring contests. Spring Training games had been scheduled to commence on Feb. 26. Pitchers and catchers were scheduled to begin reporting to camp this week.
The MLBPA issued the following statement in response to the league’s announcement:
“MLB announced today that it ’must’ postpone the start of spring training games. This is false. Nothing requires the league to delay the start of spring training, much like nothing required the league’s decision to implement the lockout in the first place. Despite these decisions by the league, Players remain committed to the negotiating process.”