MLB, players enter crunch time with lockout talks hitting the road

JUPITER, Fla. — Like the “Party of Five” episode when Julia and Griffin, their marriage on the rocks, took a romantic getaway in the hopes of rekindling their flame, Major League Baseball’s owners and players convened at the unsubtly named Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Monday to continue their discussions toward a new Basic Agreement — a little Sunshine State excursion following a month-plus of largely fruitless discussions in New York.

Alas, like Julia and Griffin, the two sides learned Monday that palm trees can’t bridge fundamental differences, as the owners’ turn at proposing tweaks disappointed the players, according to an industry source. This couple, however, will keep getting after it until they find common ground, whether it’s in time to hold an entire season or not.

The kickoff to this Florida round of negotiations produced some exciting visuals, like Max Scherzer and Francisco Lindor appearing (sort of) publicly for the first time since becoming Mets teammates and a handful of anxious fans joining some media folks to stake out the proceedings. And for sure, the time they spent together, on the same grounds — an hour-plus of bargaining, followed by nearly three hours of the players and owners caucusing among themselves, then another roughly 35 minutes of bargaining before they broke up for the day — felt a lot better than their mock-worthy 15-minute session last week at the MLB Players Association’s Manhattan headquarters. Moreover, they’ll get right back to it on Tuesday after the owners agreed to the players’ request to meet here so that Scherzer and his fellow players can continue working out in preparation for the season.

The reality, though, shows that the players and owners face miles and miles before they can celebrate and relax. And seven more days, as per the owners’ calendar, to get a deal done before imperiling the scheduled March 31 Opening Day.

Mets pitcher Max Scherzer outside MLB's labor negotiations on Feb. 21, 2022, in Jupiter, Fla.
Mets pitcher Max Scherzer outside MLB’s labor negotiations on Feb. 21, 2022, in Jupiter, Fla.
Ken Davidoff

On Monday, the owners counter-proposed on two fronts:

1. Regarding the bonus pool for pre-arbitration players, they increased their offer from $15 million to $20 million, covering 30 high-achieving players in that group. The players’ package calls for $115 million to go to 150 such players. Further complicating this matter, the players want to expand arbitration for the players between two and three years’ service, from the top 22 percent of that class to the top 80 percent. The owners insist they won’t budge off the status quo on this.

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2. They expanded their draft lottery from the top three picks, ensuring that the worst team would pick no lower than fourth, to the top four picks. The players would like to see an eight-pick lottery.

So Tuesday will be the players’ turn to counter, and the primary item of interest for baseball-labor geeks will be whether they budge on their vision for the luxury tax. Players view this as a top priority and are highly upset by the owners’ proposal, which includes harsher penalties for exceeding the threshold and a lower increase from 2021 to 2026 than they just experienced from 2016 through 2021.

Scherzer and Lindor both serve on the PA’s executive subcommittee, and their Mets teammate Brandon Nimmo, as well as Yankees pitcher Jameson Taillon, also showed up as part of a 10-player phalanx. Tony Clark, the PA’s executive director, also sat in the negotiations after not doing so for the Manhattan sessions; his counterpart, the lockout-issuing commissioner Rob Manfred, did not attend. The MLB side featured a pair of actual owners, the Rockies’ Dick Monfort and the Padres’ Ron Fowler.

Dusk falls over Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., just after MLB labor talks recessed for the night, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.
Dusk falls over Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., just after MLB labor talks recessed for the night, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.

Lindor is among those expected back Tuesday, and we’ll see how attendance ebbs and flows during this critical week. Whether the high energy exuded Monday can sustain while leading to more substantive progress.

At the least, members of both sides smiled in the sun. If it doesn’t count as a flame rekindled, it can be interpreted as an acknowledgment that it’s crunch time and they’re willing to put in the hours. Now all they must do is make the most of those hours.

Artmotion U.S.A

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