Major League Baseball said only five days remain to salvage March 31 openers and a full season, telling locked out players that games would be canceled if a labor contract is not agreed to by the end of Monday.
After the third straight day of negotiations with little movement, MLB went public with what it had told the union on Feb. 12.
“A deadline is a deadline. Missed games are missed games. Salary will not be paid for those games,” an MLB spokesman said after Wednesday’s bargaining ended. The spokesman spoke on behalf of MLB on the condition the spokesman not be identified by name.
Players have not accepted Monday as a deadline and have suggested any missed games could be made up as part of doubleheaders, a method MLB said it will not agree to.
The union told MLB if games are missed and salaries are lost, clubs should not expect players to agree to management’s proposals to expand the postseason and to allow advertisements on uniforms and helmets.
Bargaining is scheduled to continue Thursday, and both sides said they are prepared to meet through Monday.
A shortened season would be baseball’s second in three years following a 2020 schedule cut from 162 games to 60 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The last seasons truncated by labor strife were during the strike that ended the 1994 schedule on Aug. 12 and caused the start of the following season to be delayed from April 2 to April 25. The 1995 schedule was reduced from 162 games to 144.
Players are paid only during the regular season, accruing 1/162nd of their salary daily. Players would be subject to losing as much as $232,975 daily in the case of Mets pitcher Max Scherzer, or as little as $3,441 for a player at a $640,000 minimum.
Baseball’s work stoppage was in its 84th day, and the three sessions this week increased the total on core economic issues to just nine since the lockout began Dec. 2.
Spring training workouts had been scheduled to start on Feb. 16, and MLB already has canceled the first week of exhibitions, which were to begin Friday.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said on Feb. 10 a minimum of four weeks of training are needed before starting the season. A deal by Monday would allow that plus a few days for players to report to camps in Arizona and Florida.
Manfred has spoken publicly just once since the day the lockout began and union head Tony Clark not at all.
MLB’s public statement was interpreted as a pressure tactic by the union, which was angered payrolls decreased during the expired five-year deal and an increased number of teams jettisoned higher-salaries veterans and transitioned to rebuilding mode.
“To get bears in the forest, you can’t offer them bear traps,” said Scott Boras, agent for five of eight players on the union’s executive subcommittee.
A day after the union made only small moves in response to management’s incremental proposal of a day earlier, MLB advanced only one change: Teams offered to increase the minimum salary from $570,500 to $640,000, up from their previous proposal of $630,000. The minimum would increase by an additional $10,000 each season during a five-year agreement. Clubs withdrew their proposal for a tiered minimum, which players opposed.
Players have asked for $775,000 in 2022 and additional $30,000 jumps in each succeeding season. The union evaluated MLB’s proposal as adding $5 million annually.
There was no discussion Wednesday on the key issue of luxury tax thresholds and rates, but players voiced their concern over a lack of competition and the need for younger players to get higher salaries earlier in their careers.
The union proposed a $115 million pool of money that would go to 150 pre-arbitration players annually, while the clubs offered $20 million that would be distributed to 30.
Yankees pitchers Gerrit Cole and Zack Britton joined the talks, two of six members on hand from the executive subcommittee that supervises the negotiations. They were joined by Scherzer, free agent pitcher Andrew Miller, Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor, and Houston catcher Jason Castro.
After meeting at the start of the day at Roger Dean Stadium, the vacant spring training home of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, the sides caucused and then had a smaller group meeting that included Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem, Colorado CEO Dick Monfort, Scherzer and Miller.
Teams have told the union they will not decrease revenue sharing and will not add new methods for players to accrue service time, which the union said is needed to prevent teams from holding players back to delay free agency.
Clubs also are refusing to increase arbitration eligibility among players with at least two years of service and less than three, of which the top 22% by service time are eligible. The union wants it expanded to 75%.
By RONALD BLUM