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MLB labor dispute: At this point, spring training probably won’t start on time

Major League Baseball and Rob Manfred spin ever closer to the possibility of losing regular-season games as the owners' lockout of players stretches into a third month.LM Otero/Associated Press

There’s no longer much of a shot that Major League Baseball spring training can begin on time in two weeks. What stands in real peril now, after another day of heated and unproductive talks between locked-out players and owners, is an on-time start to the regular season on March 31.

At Tuesday’s 90-minute bargaining session in New York City, players made two relatively minor concessions that did not shrink to any meaningful degree the sizable differences that remain between the sides, with a baseball calendar running out of time.

Spring training camps are scheduled to open Feb. 16 in both Florida and Arizona.

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At the first meeting between the sides in a week, and only the fourth on core economic issues since the lockout began Dec. 2, the MLB Players Association reduced their ask on the size of a bonus money pool for pre-arbitration players from $105 million to $100 million, and made another move related to service-time manipulation, according to sources familiar with the talks.

Last week, the owners agreed to the concept and framework of the pool, but proposed just $10 million.

Players also previously proposed rewarding rookies who reach a certain WAR level with an extra year of service time. On Tuesday, they reduced those threshholds from top 30 or top 10 to top 20 or top 7.

Even though the owners agreed to the pool concept, its offering suggests it sees the proposal as a disincentive, and owners not likely to choose the on-field performance boosts from young players over a quicker trip to free agency.

Players who participated in the meeting via Zoom were said to be both engaged and vocal, upset with what they see as intransigence on meaningful increases on key issues such as the competitive balance thresholds and minimum salaries. Neither topic came up Tuesday.

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Can Rob Manfred and Tony Clark hammer out a deal?Ron Blum/Associated Press

Owners, on the other hand, left the meeting disenchanted and underwhelmed with what they see as continued unreasonable requests from players who don’t seem to appreciate the magnitude of the givebacks contained in the owners’ proposals.

Based on the lack of meaningful progress and the length between meetings, it’s fair to surmise that a healthy amount of distrust is brewing in each camp about the other’s motivation and willingness to get a deal done before the threat of losing games becomes real.

From the day a settlement is reached, it would take 5-6 weeks for the regular season to start. That’s 10 days to two weeks for the hot stove season to conclude (free agency, trades, arbitration), and then four weeks of spring training. That makes the second half of February the red zone for a deal to be reached in time for a full 162-game season.

Talks on non-core economic issues such as international games and the All-Star Game will resume on Wednesday and Thursday. Those issues are theoretically simpler to find consensus on, but owners want increased player participation in both. Given the overall tenor, finding the right language may not be as easy as it sounds.

There is no word yet on when MLB and MLBPA will re-engage on core economic issues, but it could happen by the end of the week.


Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.