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MLB Lockout Latest: Spring Training Delay Likely

With little progress made so far, the MLB lockout is likely to delay Spring Training and, potentially, the start of the 2022 regular season.
MLB Lockout canceled spring training games MLBPA

Photo: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

69 days separate the day that Major League Baseball initiated a lockout with the MLB Players Association and today. And with just 52 days until the 2022 season is scheduled to begin, baseball fans are nowhere closer to seeing the lockout end.

Since the lockout began, MLB and the MLBPA have not engaged in much meaningful discussion. Not until the last couple of weeks have the two parties even sat down to speak about the main issues at hand.

However, those conversations have not resulted in much headway and the lack of progress is beginning to worry many that Spring Training, and potentially, the regular season will not start on time.

So, when will baseball fans need to seriously start worrying about a delay to the 2022 baseball season? I wrote an article on Dec. 3, just a couple of days after Major League Baseball initiated the lockout, that stated:

“The next 60-90 days are going to provide a clearer answer to the question of lost games. Opening Day is March 31 and all players report to Spring Training by the end of February. A new CBA deal will need to be struck by March 1 in order to not lose any games.”

Looking at the calendar, we are just three weeks away from March 1 and there is not much hope the lockout will end before that.

Many believe Feb. 19 is the drop-dead date to get a new CBA in place in order to prevent any delay to Spring Training. While a delay to baseball's preseason does not necessarily mean a delay to the regular season, fitting Spring Training into a smaller time window could cause injuries, something neither fans, players, nor team owners want to see.

What is the Hold Up?

The core issues remain of an economic nature: free agency; changes to arbitration; revenue sharing; and the luxury tax threshold.

It must be said, though, that while the league has been firm in its stance that all of those issues are non-starters, the MLBPA has made some concessions.

The players entirely dropped their proposal to change free agency rules. The MLBPA wanted to amend the current free agency structure to allow players to reach free agency earlier in their careers.

The players also modified their request regarding revenue sharing. In its original proposal, the PA asked for a $100 million reduction in revenue sharing, which sees large-market teams transfer revenue to small-market teams. Now, it is asking for just a $30 million reduction.

And although it is a very important issue for the MLBPA, the players have even given some concessions to its proposal regarding service time.

Yes, the league has agreed to sit down at the table to have discussions about some economic issues. The league has offered a minimum salary of $615,000 to the players, an increase from the current minimum of $570,500. However, that was to be expected as average salaries have decreased in each of the past four seasons.

While the league has offered a bonus pool for pre-arbitration players (those in first three years of team control) that perform well, the league only wants that pool of money to be $10 million, a far cry from the player’s original proposal of $105 million (the players have since lowered their proposal to $100 million).

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Again, neither side is budging much. But, if you are keeping score at home, the players certainly have conceded more to this point.

Federal Mediation

Given all the back-and-forth over the past couple of weeks, the MLBPA expected a counterproposal from Major League Baseball late last week. Instead, the league offered the players a chance to use a federal mediator to help close the impasse between the two parties.

Why would the league want federal mediation? Well, it’s a win-win for MLB. If the players say no, they look like the ones unwilling to end this lockout. If the players say yes, mediation burns a couple more weeks, which benefits the owners.

As expected, the MLBPA said no to federal mediation. Why would the players say yes?

First, the players are of the belief (and you can’t really argue with them) that they have conceded more than the owners to this point. Any compromise or meet-in-the-middle strategy derived from mediation would then favor the owners.

Second, it would take a couple of weeks to catch up a mediator on the intricacies of the negotiations thus far.

The more time that passes, the more it benefits the owners. While neither party wants a delayed season, the owners are generally in much better financial situations than players are.

Lastly, and most importantly, the precedent of mediation in baseball labor negotiations is not one that favors the players association.

Has it Worked?

Federal mediation has actually proven worthwhile in labor negotiations of other sports leagues. NHL players and owners alike still praise Scot Beckenbaugh for his role in ending the 2013 NHL lockout. He would be the front-runner to mediate this baseball lockout.

But for the sport of baseball, mediation has been an unmitigated disaster. Bill Usery was brought in to mediate the 1994-1995 strike. After 4.5 months of mediation, Usery got nowhere. President Bill Clinton himself needed to get involved.

Tom Glavine, a union leader at the time, said: “We were willing to compromise, and we have shown that. But Mr. Usery’s proposal was outrageous in many instances. We’d be giving away things we’ve gone on strike for previously. Mr. Usery couldn’t answer any questions about what a lot of his proposal meant.”

Said Gene Orza, a top lawyer for the union at the time: “[The mediators] came in with what they thought was a halfway proposal, which the owners jumped all over. The owners approved the mediators’ proposal in about a minute and a half.”

Don Fehr, then head of the MLBPA, simply said of Usery’s mediation: “It was a joke.”

Safe to say that players simply do not trust federal mediation to work.

What's On Tap Next?

After the MLBPA declined the opportunity to use a federal mediator, the league will meet over the coming days to come up with terms of their own counterproposal, something the players expected last week.

The league’s counterproposal should come within the next week. More on this story as it unfolds.