JUPITER, Fla. — Day five of MLB labor talks in Florida brought more action, more talk — even commissioner Rob Manfred joined in — and even a little bit of hope that at least one issue could be resolved before Monday’s deadline.
In otherwise moribund talks, that counts as a big day. But a bigger problem remains: Significant differences on several core economic issues. If they are to be resolved by Monday’s owner-set deadline to preserve the full regular-season schedule, it’s going to require a great deal more progress.
Because of the rapidly flipping calendar, MLB pushed back the start of spring training games another three days, now to no earlier than Tuesday, March 8. No deal on Monday will mean a much deeper cut to the schedule, but the league is holding off just in case the sides reach a settlement.
Besides the progress made on the issue of draft order, the most significant twist to the day was the sight of Manfred striding into the Cardinals’ clubhouse where talks are happening. He did not address players, but rather requested and received a private meeting with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark.
Manfred’s request came as a surprise to the players. An MLB spokesperson said the intent was to focus on how to move the negotiations process forward. The conversation, the spokesperson added, was a positive one.
Friday’s meetings occurred the day after the union made two counterproposals, one on service time manipulation, the other on draft order. MLB addressed the latter Friday, presenting what it feels is the most aggressive lottery in the four major North American sports.
The changes proposed (and that led to the fruitful talks) had to do with making more aggressive eligibility requirements for the teams vying for the four top spots in the lottery. The players still want the top seven picks included, but the sides appear to be close enough that an agreement could come as soon as Saturday.
While any form of mutually agreed upon progress counts as a breakthrough in these talks, there is no escaping how much remains. The competitive balance tax, revenue sharing, expanded salary arbitration eligibility, and minimum salaries are among the biggest.
If Manfred’s mission with Clark succeeded, and Friday signaled a start to an avalanche of momentum, concession, and kumbaya that sweeps each side off its feet, then there is a sliver of hope for a new collective bargaining agreement that ends the Dec. 2, owner-imposed lockout and the sport’s first work stoppage in 26 years.
Some may look at that slender chance and what progressed on Friday and see an escape from the cloud of despair that has hovered over the sport all winter. That’s a path no one’s rooting against.
But given the calendar and to-do list, it remains challenging, even on a good day, to believe that the sides are going to get the job done. What happens the next three days will write the script for that work order.
Talks continue Saturday afternoon.