Last weekend, Major League Baseball made its most recent collective bargaining proposal to the MLB Players Association. Evan Drellich of the Athletic tweeted at the time that MLB had informed the union of what it viewed as the latest possible date to work out an agreement for the regular season to begin on March 31 as scheduled. This afternoon, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that date as February 28. In the league’s view, if no collective bargaining agreement is in place by the end of February, the regular season start date will have to be pushed back.
It’s not clear whether the MLBPA agrees with that assertion. Perhaps the union thinks a deal could be worked out a few days into March without interruption to the beginning of the season. Yet simple math dictates that a new CBA would need be in place within around two weeks to avoid a delay. Opening Day is scheduled for exactly six weeks from now. Teams will need time to conduct the remainder of their offseasons while players will need some exhibition play to work back into game shape. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said last week he viewed four weeks as an appropriate amount of time for Spring Training. Players had a three-week training period during 2020 Summer Camp, and Manfred suggested repeating that process would be insufficient.
MLB could also lift the lockout and allow the games to proceed in the absence of a new CBA. The league certainly isn’t going to take that course of action, though, leaving little time for an agreement if they’re to avoid delays. Manfred expressed optimism about that possibility last week, but the latest developments on the CBA front seem to leave little reason to believe there won’t be some form of delay.
In the week since Manfred met with the media, both MLB and the MLBPA have made one core economics proposal. Each party came away generally dissatisfied with the other’s offer, and the chances of them bridging the still-significant gaps within the next two weeks seem very slim.
With time dwindling, Jeff Passan of ESPN reports (on Twitter) that MLB and the MLBPA are planning to conduct multiple bargaining sessions next week, perhaps meeting every day beginning Monday. Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet hears (Twitter link) that MLB has expressed some willingness to move towards the union’s demands on the competitive balance tax and efforts to get players paid earlier in their careers.
Notably, Nicholson-Smith adds in a second tweet that the union has informed the league they’d be unlikely to agree to playoff expansion in 2022 if the regular season were shortened. Expanding the postseason is a key objective for MLB, which would stand to benefit greatly from the ability to market extra games to television partners. The league has sought a 14-team playoff, while the union has expressed a willingness to go to 12 teams. However, Nicholson-Smith’s report indicates there’s some chance the MLBPA will refuse to go beyond 10 postseason teams this year if any regular season games are lost, thereby costing players game checks.