Another day runs off clock in MLB talks to save opening day

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 20: A general view of the Major League Baseball logo atop the Philadelphia Phillies dugout during the Major League Baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays on September 20, 2020 at Citizen

Another day ran off the clock on talks to salvage opening day when locked-out baseball players proposed what they considered a small move forward in drawn-out labor negotiations and management termed it a third straight step backward.

Management again proposed a federal mediator enter the negotiations, but the union immediately turned down that idea, leaving Major League Baseball on track to lose regular-season games to a labor dispute for the first time since 1995.

Less than a week remains until the sides reach what management says is a Monday deadline for a deal that would allow the season to start as scheduled on March 31. Players have not said whether they accept that timeframe, and there remains a sense both sides are awaiting more time pressure to force more major moves by the other.

Still, the sides agreed to meet for the third day in a row Wednesday, the 84th day of the second-longest work stoppage in baseball history.

Players made a tiny shift toward management Tuesday on their proposal for increased salary arbitration eligibility, lowering to the top 75% by service time among the group with at least two seasons in the majors but less than three.

The union last week came off its prior demand that all two-year players be eligible — the level from 1974-86 — and instead proposed the top 80% by service. Teams have said any movement in this area is not significant because management maintains it will never agree to any increase.

Players took a step back from clubs in their proposal for major league minimum salaries, which had been for $775,000 this season with $25,000 annual increases during a five-year deal to $875,000 in 2026. The union instead proposed a $30,000 raise each year, to $895,000 in the final year.

MLB has proposed a rise from $570,500 to $630,000 and then by $10,000 annually, to $670,000 by 2026.

The union calculated its movement for the day as $25 million over five years. The $5 million average amounts to just over 0.1% of player compensation that totaled $4.05 billion last season, down from a record high of just under $4.25 billion in 2017.

The sides drew closer on their proposals for a lottery that would determine the early picks in each year’s amateur draft, with the union lowering its proposal to the top seven selections from eight, a day after management raised from three to four. The union also is asking for other adjustments that management hasn’t been interested in.

There were two sessions, a main meeting followed by caucuses, and then a two-on-two discussion among union lead negotiator Bruce Meyer, Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem, Colorado CEO Dick Monfort and New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer.

The sides had met on consecutive days just once before, on Jan. 24 and 25.

There was no movement on the biggest issue: luxury tax thresholds and rates.

The union made its last proposal just before the lockout started Dec. 2, dropping from $248 million to $245 million for this year, with a rise to $273 million by 2026.

Teams have been offering an increase from last season’s $210 million to $214 million in both this year and next, and they have not moved off that. On Feb. 12 they upped their proposal by $2 million annually in each of the final three season of a deal: $216 million in 2024, $218 million in 2025, and $222 million in 2026.

Teams have told the union they will not decrease revenue sharing and will not add new methods for players to accrue service time, which players said are needed to prevent teams from holding players back to delay free agency.

There also was no change in the proposals for a pool of money devoted to players not yet eligible for salary arbitration. The union is at $115 million and clubs at $20 million.

Management termed this a step backward because the union increased its plan by $15 million on Feb. 17, five days after teams accepted the union concept and offered $10 million. Clubs upped their offer to $20 million on Monday, when negotiations were shifted from New York to Roger Dean Stadium, the spring training home of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals.

While much of the focus is on the deal’s impact on the top of the market, the union also asked Tuesday for increases in the minor league minimum, which was $46,600 last year for a player signing his first big league contract and $93,000 for a player signing a second or later major league contract.

The union increased Tuesday from $65,200 to $66,000 for initial contracts this year and from $130,400 to $131,200 for later contracts. The figures would climb to $73,400 and $145,900 by 2026, up from $71,400 and $142,700 in the players’ Feb. 17 proposal.

Management also accuses the union of moving backward on service-time proposals.