League, union not expected to discuss key issues until January

Since Major League Baseball instituted a lockout in the early morning hours of December 2, there’s been little known back-and-forth between the league and the MLB Players Association. Evan Drellich of the Athletic reports this evening that the sides aren’t expected to discuss the game’s core economic structure until sometime in January. The parties have, however, been in contact about other issues and are expected to meet in-person tomorrow to discuss issues outside of core economics.

Disagreements related to core economics figure to be the most important, contentious issues to hammer out. Such topics as the service time structure, playoff expansion and the competitive balance tax are among the areas of import for both sides that could be difficult to iron out. Agreeing on the core economics structure figures to take ample bargaining time, and that the sides won’t even address the issues again until January is the latest confirmation that the lockout figures to drag on for quite some time.

In the aftermath of the lockout, both Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA lead negotiator Bruce Meyer publicly expressed a willingness to continue negotiating. Yet Drellich hears that neither side has initiated talks regarding core economics in the nearly two weeks since then, even as they’ve engaged on less contentious matters.

There doesn’t seem to be much belief that meetings regarding core economics before January would serve much of a purpose, though. Drellich hears from individuals on both sides of talks who suggest that a sit-down within the coming days or weeks would likely have only resulted in negotiators “saying the same things to each other over and over.”

As Drellich points out, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of urgency for either side to move off their initial demands at this point on the calendar. During the winter months, owners aren’t losing gate revenues while players aren’t forfeiting game checks. Major league transactions are frozen, but that alone doesn’t seem to be enough of a motivator for either side to alter their bargaining positions.

The league’s owners are clearly content to wait through a transactions freeze, having voted to lock the players out unanimously as the previous collective bargaining agreement expired. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, meanwhile, suggested to reporters on December 2 that the freeze wouldn’t affect the players’ negotiating resolve. “Players consider (the lockout) unnecessary and provocative,” Clark said at the time. “The lockout won’t pressure or intimidate players into a deal they don’t believe is fair.”

It’s possible both sides will begin to feel more pressure to move closer to an agreement as the scheduled start of Spring Training nears. As things currently stand, the first exhibition games are scheduled to begin on February 26, 2022. Of course, there’ll need to be some time for players to report and to get into game shape before jumping right into game play. In the immediate aftermath of the lockout, Bob Nightengale of USA Today suggested the sides viewed February 1 as a “soft deadline” for a deal getting done to avoid interruptions to Spring Training.

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