Owners, Players Meet For Extended Negotiating Session; More Talks Planned For Monday

Representatives from the owners and the MLB Players Association met today for an extended series of talks, a day in advance of the league’s self-imposed deadline to avoid the cancellation of regular-season games.  More negotiations are scheduled for Monday at 9am CT, following multiple sessions today that took place over almost a six-hour time period.

This marks the seventh consecutive days of negotiations between the two sides, as the clock continues to tick towards both the owners’ February 28 deadline and the start of the regular season on March 31.  Some Spring Training games have already been canceled by the lockout, and if a new collective bargaining agreement was reached by tomorrow, teams would face a whirlwind of a month consisting of both an abbreviated Spring Training, and essentially three months of lost offseason business crammed into roughly a four-week window.

Given both the lack of progress and some open frustration emerging during yesterday’s talks, it seems like a longshot that a new CBA will actually be struck by tomorrow.  As Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post notes, the unofficial nature of the owners’ February 28 deadline means that it could be pushed back if there is actual movement towards an agreement, and the players are likely to make such a case if some noteworthy progress is made tomorrow.

A league official told multiple reporters (including The Boston Globe’s Michael Silverman) that today’s talks were “productive,” as the two sides discussed both core economic issues and other CBA items not directly related to economics.  However, the league and the MLBPA are still “far apart” on many of these issues, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (Twitter links), and today’s talks included “a lot of hypotheticals” under discussion and no actual proposals from either side.

One detail from the league’s side relates to the luxury tax threshold, as The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal report that the owners have “indicated willingness” to raise the levels of the Competitive Balance Tax thresholds beyond their past offers.  It wouldn’t be a big raise, however, past the $214MM that the league submitted yesterday as the initial tax threshold.

Past reports indicated that the owners’ offers to eliminate the qualifying offer (and thus eliminating the draft-pick penalty for teams who signed a QO-rejecting free agent) was linked to the CBT negotiations, specifically with the league looking for higher taxation rates for teams who exceed the CBT tiers, according to Drellich/Rosenthal.  Presumably, owners see the elimination of the qualifying offer as a significant enough concession to counter the MLBPA’s demands for much higher luxury tax thresholds, though the union clearly doesn’t see the two matters as a worthwhile trade-off.

The topic of an expanded postseason has also been a key part of CBA talks, as MLBTR’s Anthony Franco explored back in December.  With the owners eager for more teams (and thus more games and more TV revenue) in the playoffs, the MLBPA has been trying to leverage this desire into making gains on other economic issues.  Most recently, the expanded playoffs also factored into the February 28th deadline, as the union has said that they won’t agree to a larger postseason field whatsoever if the owners withhold pay due to canceled regular-season games.

Rosenthal (Twitter links) has some details on the MLBPA’s offer for a new playoff format, which includes an increase in the number of postseason teams from 10 to 12.  The owners have been pushing for a 14-team postseason, though in both 12-team and 14-team scenarios, the union’s offer includes the concept of a “ghost win” in the first playoff round as a reward to teams who win their division.  For example, a division-winning team would only have to win one of the first two games of a first-round series in order to advance, while the wild card opponent would have to win both contests.

In short, the idea would to incentivize winning a division title, which would theoretically entice teams to spend more on player salaries in order to be more competitive.  The MLBPA has seen the concept of a larger playoff field as a possible drag on spending, as teams have less urgency or a bigger margin for error in reaching the postseason.  The league’s 14-team offer did propose awarding a first-round bye to the teams with the best records in the AL and NL, and the other four division winners would have the benefits of both hosting the entire wild card series in their home ballpark, and also choosing which of the wild card teams they’d want to play.

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