MLB, union will need a miracle to get a deal done in time


JUPITER, Fla. — Does Major League Baseball have a 1986 Mets-type rally in it?

Does the industry feature four owners who can play the clutch roles of Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson, only working with their opponents instead of against them?

Common sense says no. But that, to bastardize a phrase, is why they hold the negotiations.

Here we go, deadline day Monday at the unsubtly named Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Either the two sides complete a collective bargaining agreement by the end of business, as per the stated threat of MLB, or the scheduled March 31 Opening Day gets canceled, with the players losing their pay, and presumably the owners — contending that spring training must last four weeks and that three days will be required to ratify an agreement before camps open — will take a similar approach with each day that passes and the corresponding games slated for 31 days later.

They will begin the day — a 10 a.m. starting time, hours earlier than the first seven days here, recognizing the matter’s urgency — as decided underdogs to complete a deal in time, with too much ground to cover on too many matters. If you’re desperate for optimism, know that the two sides held a relatively tranquil session on Sunday, with MLB describing it as “productive” and the union conceding that there certainly have been less productive conferences in this mighty struggle to reach the finish line.

This felt like a day to defuse in the wake of Saturday’s disastrous gathering, when the players made significant moves on arbitration eligibility and revenue-sharing, only to see them smacked down altogether by the intransigent owners. Only three players — new Mets pitcher Max Scherzer, new Rangers infielder Marcus Semien and free agent Andrew Miller — came to the ballpark, and none of them participated directly in conversations, instead participating in the caucuses. The same went for the ownership contingent; the Yankees’ Hal Steinbrener, the Rockies’ Dick Monfort, the Padres’ Ron Fowler and the Rangers’ Ray Davis all were on site, as was commissioner Rob Manfred, yet stayed in their clubhouse, so to speak. Instead, the lawyers did the heavy lifting, with MLB’s deputy commissioner Dan Halem and his MLB Players Association equivalent Bruce Meyer talking one-on-one multiple times and some of their respective subordinates holding their own breakout sessions.

No formal proposals were exchanged, which means that, technically, they must execute considerable work on nearly every core economic issue, including the competitive-balance tax, the minimum salary, the pre-arbitration bonus pool, mitigating service-time manipulation, the draft lottery, the number of teams in the expanded playoffs and an international draft as well as arbitration and revenue-sharing. There also exist field-of-play issues, with MLB looking to shorten the time between proposal and implementation for such innovations as the pitch clock. Non-technically, to be clear, some of that work might have been accomplished informally on Sunday, as both sides were unusually tight-lipped about specifics when they recessed after about six hours at the stadium.

Rob Manfred (left) and Tony Clark (top right, left) stayed out of Sunday’s negotiations, leaving it to Bruce Meyer (top right, right) and Dan Halem (bottom right).
AP (3)

So how will Monday work? Keep in mind that this is a Play-Doh deadline, subject to reshaping and manipulation, rather than the collectively bargained times we see attached to processes like arbitration filing or finalizing your 40-man roster. There is no specific time, and nothing would prevent the owners from extending it by a day if they see considerable movement. Of course, the owners are the ones who must move — and who implemented the current lockout, for that matter — in order to avoid catastrophe.

Keep in mind, too, that while the owners possess the right to start canceling games and docking pay, there won’t be a return to action without an agreement on player pay for 2022. As steadfastly as the owners purport to oppose doubleheaders to make up for lost time, you can’t rule those out until the deal is done.

So, will the owners show up Monday ready to party like it’s 1986? Are they in it to win it (for the greater good), or just to blow off April? It’s nearly pencils down, and it’s on the owners to not blow this whole thing up.



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