MLB labor negotiations remain on doomsday path

JUPITER, Fla. – Tuesday Doomsday.

Two, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Ew.

It was not a good day for Major League Baseball fans, a tiny sample of whom still love the game so much, despite its current dumpster fire raging all over North America, that they stood outside the unsubtly named Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium for hours, staking out these labor negotiations and shouting the players’ names as they arrived and departed.

The Mets ‘Francisco Lindor and the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt were among those who waved back without getting close enough for autographs or close-range photos, and that symbolized where things stand: Neither side is moving much, with the clock running out – the teams have declared a Feb. 28 deadline – to sign a new Basic Agreement in time to begin the season, as scheduled, on March 31.

On Tuesday, the teams grew so frustrated by the players’ latest counteroffer that they suggested, for the second time this month, that a third-party, federal mediator be deployed to expedite progress. And for the second time this month, the players passed. Hence they’ll get back after it on Wednesday afternoon. A bona fide breakthrough will require one of the two constituencies to bend sufficiently toward a realistic deal. To date, neither has come close to such flexibility.

They met for only about an hour Tuesday, then caucused with their respective sides for about an hour. The day wrapped up with a smaller breakout session, which lasted approximately 35 minutes, in which MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark (who did sign autographs before the meeting) and new Mets co-ace Max Scherzer represented the players and deputy commissioner Dan Halem and Rockies CEO Dick Monfort spoke on behalf of the owners.

A smiling Francisco Lindor talks with new Mets teammate Max Scherzer before the day's baseball labor negotiations that went nowhere again.
A smiling Francisco Lindor talks with new Mets teammate Max Scherzer before the day’s baseball labor negotiations that went nowhere again.
AP

Ownership’s frustration emanated from what it sees as a recurring pattern in the players’ counteroffers: They give in on one area while asking for more from another. On Tuesday, such proffer came in the form of a lowering on their ask regarding the “Super Two” arbitration class – they now want the arbitration process available to 75 percent of those holding between two and three years’ service, a drop from 80 percent – and an increase of the minimum salary $ 30,000 per year from 2022, for which it would be $ 775,000, through 2026.

The players, who also tweaked their draft-lottery proposal from putting the top eight picks in play to the top seven (the teams are at four), view that as a net gain for the owners, a less expensive proposition than their previous proposal. Whereas the owners see the players relenting on something they don’t have – the expired collective bargaining agreement gave arbitration to only 22 percent of the class with 2-3-years of service – as they look for an even higher minimum wage, and regard it as the process moving backwards.

MLB Players Association executive director talks (right) with Houston Astros' Jason Castro before labor negotiations.
MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark talks (right) with Houston Astros’ Jason Castro before labor negotiations.
AP

It all feels like thumb-twiddling, massive time wasted, until real ground gets covered on the competitive-balance (or luxury) tax, which the players assert to be a priority. They last changed their CBT proposal more than two months ago in Dallas, when the sides met right before Rob Manfred officially declared a lockout. At that time, they dropped their 2022 figure from $ 248 million to $ 245 million, going to $ 273 million by 2026. The clubs last addressed that issue on Feb. 12, when they raised their back-end caps slightly to a peak of $ 222 million in 2026, with harsher penalties than the expired deal for those who exceed it.

If the players got the 2026 figure to $ 245 million and kept the old penalties, that would represent considerable progress. Will they move toward that direction as a signal of flexibility to the owners? Will they do it without a corresponding uptick in another component?

Will anyone step up, ever, and be the bigger party, rather than play tit for tat? If no one does, then the next Tuesday on the calendar will bring some serious doom with it.

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