Spring training appears at risk as baseball makes little progress in labor talks

In a sign of the lack of progress, the union has started to distribute withheld money to players from its stoppage fund.

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MLBPA chief negotiator Bruce Meyer leads a bargaining team to negotiations at MLB offices in New York on Tuesday.

MLBPA chief negotiator Bruce Meyer leads a bargaining team to negotiations at MLB offices in New York on Tuesday.

Ron Blum/AP

NEW YORK (AP) — Whatever little chance there was of an on-time start to spring training all but vanished Tuesday during a contentious 90-minute negotiating session between locked out players and Major League Baseball.

Players made two slight moves during the first meeting in a week.

The union lowered its proposed pool of money for pre-arbitration-eligible players from $105 million to $100 million. The union also cut the number of players it wants credited with an additional year of major league service to the top 20 at each position in each league by WAR, or the top seven, depending on position, down from 30 and 10.

Players and owners did not attend the session Tuesday but participated by video.

A session on noneconomic issues is set for Wednesday and there is no date for the resumption of talks on the core matters, such as luxury tax thresholds. Owners are scheduled to meet from Feb. 8-10 in Orlando, Florida, making it less likely there could be negotiations over those days.

Given the lack of urgency in talks to end a work stoppage that began Dec. 2, both sides are behaving as if it is a foregone conclusion that spring training workouts will not start as scheduled on Feb. 16.

Players don’t start accruing salaries until the regular season, scheduled to start on March 31, making it unlikely there will be great movement until mid- to late February at the earliest.

A minimum of three weeks of training and exhibition games are needed to start the season, with additional time beforehand for players to report to training camps and undergo COVID-19 protocols.

In a sign of the lack of progress, the players’ association is making $5,000 stipends available to its members. The union had $178.5 million in cash, U.S. Treasury securities and investments on Dec. 31, 2020, according to its latest financial disclosure form filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Baseball’s ninth work stoppage and first since 1995 started when the five-year collective bargaining agreement expired on Dec. 1.

Players are asking that salary arbitration eligibility be expanded to those with two years of service, its level from 1974 through 1986, when it increased to three years. In the expired agreement, it was three years plus the top 22% by service time of players with at least two years but less than three years.

Management last week agreed to the concept of a pool for pre-arbitration players, offering $10 million.

To address alleged service time manipulation, the teams proposed that any player called up in August or September who remained eligible for Rookie of the Year the following season would count toward extra amateur draft picks. The union said Tuesday it was willing to accept that concept, with modifications.

The additional service time would go to the top seven players at each position in each league by average Fangraphs and Baseball Reference WAR, except for starting pitchers, relief pitchers and outfielders, where it would be 20 in each category. The union made the proposal to address what it claims are clubs delaying players’ debuts, such as in the case of the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Byrant.

Players have asked that the luxury tax threshold, designed to slow spending by high-revenue teams, be raised from $210 million to $245 million, and teams have offered $214 million.

MLB proposed raising the major league minimum salary from $570,700 to $615,000 for players with less than a year of big league service — but with a provision teams couldn’t pay more than that amount — $650,000 for at least one year but less than two and $700,000 for at least two. Players have proposed a $775,000 minimum.

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