MLB lockout: Progress? Rob Manfred meets with union for first time during labor talks

·8 min read

JUPITER, Fla. — For the first time since negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement began last April, commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the union directly Friday.

Just before 4 p.m. ET three days before the league’s avowed deadline to get a deal done to preserve a 162-game season, Manfred met one-on-one with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark. An MLB spokesperson characterized the conversation as focused on how to move the process forward. The meeting lasted less than half an hour.

Even when he’s not at the bargaining table, the commissioner is involved in the ongoing CBA negotiations. A labor lawyer by trade, Manfred’s ascension to the office came after heading up the league’s side in three prior CBA talks, a role now filled by Dan Halem. And this week, while the two sides have been meeting daily at Roger Dean Stadium here, near where he has a residence, Manfred has joined the team owners contingent for caucuses (previously unbeknownst to media or the union). Still, his request to meet with Clark, which came as a surprise to the union, represents at the very least the semblance of extra effort with the season on the line.

Their brief summit coincides with seemingly the most productive day, at least in terms of proposals, thus far in this 85-day lockout. Even as the frequency of meetings picked up this week and the presence of players has deepened the dialogue on the issue at hand, the rate of proposals lobbied has stayed flat: one side will present something; at the next meeting, the other side will counter. But over the course of three sessions on Friday — plus the tête-à-tête — they made significant progress on the draft order.

On Thursday, the union altered its proposal for the draft. In an effort to disincentivize tanking, players have proposed a lottery for the first seven picks plus a series of restrictions tied to recidivist losing. Friday, the league, which has previously proposed a four-pick lottery, arrived with a proposal on the draft. And unlike what we’ve seen in these negotiations, the union countered within hours. The day ended with the issue still unsettled, but with optimism that it could be soon. On Saturday, the two sides will meet again, for the sixth consecutive day.

Perhaps finishing off one of the core economic items could inspire momentum that would carry over to the more contentious matters — like revenue sharing and the luxury tax. Even in the absence of proposals, there have been conversations on all the outstanding subjects daily here in Florida, and progress can be made informally before it is codified. But juxtaposed with the timeline MLB has set, that still makes a March 31 opening day look nearly impossible. As a nod to that growing reality, MLB announced that spring training games would start no sooner than March 8.

The draft is such a small part of what is keeping the two sides from reaching an accord. But if they’re going to get a deal done eventually — and they will, baseball is going to be back — they have to start somewhere.

Owners reiterate Monday deadline to avoid shortened season

After another long day of bargaining in Florida that ended with a marginal move on a single subject on Wednesday, MLB doubled down both publicly and to the players on a Monday deadline for a deal to play a full 162-game season.

A league spokesperson told reporters: “A deadline is a deadline. Missed games are missed games. Salary will not be paid for those games.”

The MLB Players Association has avoided setting a similarly firm deadline or acquiescing to the league’s. It has expressed that if games are canceled, the union could refuse to sign off on the lucrative expanded postseason franchise owners are after.

Both sides, then, are attempting to tighten the screws. A mutual willingness to slow play concessions has brought negotiations to this: Spring training games canceled, camps populated only by minor leaguers and opening day in jeopardy. They’re meeting more, but moving around only the edges. Midway through the week in Florida, and the CBT — what figures to be the final and perhaps most intense battleground as the league is still asking for stricter penalties on a system that suppresses spending — has yet to come up in a proposal from either side.

And so now come the threats. The league is targeting players' salaries — they’re paid only in season — and the players are boobytrapping the outcome if MLB pulls that lever.

Even if that deadline was flexible, the calendar is not. That scheduled March 31 opening day is getting only closer and players need to ramp up. It certainly doesn’t seem like they’re going to get a deal done in time.

We're tracking the daily updates below.

MLB says opening day will be delayed and the 2022 season will be shortened if no deal to end the lockout is reached by Monday.  (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MLB says opening day will be delayed and the 2022 season will be shortened if no deal to end the lockout is reached by Monday. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Tracking the negotiations

All week, Major League Baseball and the union are meeting at the spring training facility of the Marlins and Cardinals in Jupiter, Florida. They’re negotiating daily ostensibly in an effort to reach a new collective bargaining agreement before the regular season is imperiled. (Reasonable minds could question whether there is a legitimate and earnest effort based on the substance of the proposals.)

The proposals they’ve traded thus far in these monthslong negotiations have largely represented incremental moves. That’ll need to change imminently to cover the necessary ground in a matter of days.

From now until there’s a major breakthrough — and there will need to be one to get a deal done — the moves will likely follow the current trend of an inch here and there. We’re keeping track of that progression below.

Thursday, Feb. 24

MLBPA proposed:

  • On service time manipulation, the union narrowed the scope of its existing proposal to award high-achieving rookies with a full year of service. Under the prior proposal, 29 players in the past five years would have been affected. In today’s adjustment, that drops to 20 players in the past five years. The league has proposed a different method, opting instead to reward teams that put top prospects on the opening day roster with draft picks if that player goes on to merit award consideration. The union has also included a similar element of rewarding teams with draft picks — a sort of carrot-and-stick system to combat service time manipulation.

  • On the draft lottery, the players adjusted their proposal to soften some of the penalties for teams that lose big in consecutive seasons. Their proposal maintains a lottery for the top seven picks, with all the teams that miss the postseason eligible, with odds based on reverse order of winning percentage. After those top seven picks, teams would draft in reverse order of winning percentage with exceptions: If a revenue sharing payer (a big-market team) finishes in the bottom eight based on winning percentage in each of the previous two seasons or in the bottom 12 in each of the previous three seasons, they could not pick higher than 10th; if they finish bottom 12 in the previous four seasons, pick moved to 18th. If a revenue receiving team (a smaller market team) finishes bottom eight for three seasons they can’t pick higher than 10th; if they finish bottom eighth for four seasons, pick moved to 18th. The league has proposed a draft lottery for the top four picks, without other stipulations.

Wednesday, Feb. 23

MLB proposed:

  • On the major-league minimum salary, MLB increased its proposal by $10,000 in each year of the CBA. The league’s proposed minimums are now $640,000 in 2022; $650,000 in 2023; $660,000 in 2024; $670,000 in 2025; and $680,000 in 2026. Last season, the major-league minimum was $570,500. The union’s proposal on the minimums starts at $775,000 in the first year and goes up $30,000 each year.

Tuesday, Feb. 22

Players proposed:

  • On arbitration eligibility, the union moved from 80% of players with two-plus years of service eligible for arbitration to 75%. Under the outgoing CBA, the top 22% of two-plus players are arbitration eligible (so-called Super Twos). MLB has maintained throughout this negotiation that it will not agree to any expansion of arbitration eligibility.

  • On the draft lottery, the union moved from the top eight spots awarded based on lottery to the top seven. Yesterday, the owners upped their proposal from three spots to four. There are other differences in the specifics of how teams would be weighted.

  • On the major-league minimum, increased their proposal in the latter years of the CBA. Previously, the union had proposed a $775,000 minimum in the first year of the CBA that increased by $25,000 each subsequent year. Monday’s proposal kept the $775,000 for the first year, with $30,000 increases for the remainder of the CBA.

Monday, Feb. 21

MLB proposed:

  • On the draft lottery — a new concept in this CBA designed to disincentivize tanking — the league increased its proposal from having the top three picks determined by the lottery to the top four picks. The union had previously proposed eight picks be determined by the lottery.

  • On the bonus pool for pre-arbitration players — another new concept in this CBA, agreeing to it in theory is among the most significant moves either side has made thus far — the league increased its proposal from $15 million to $20 million for 30 players. The union has proposed $115 million spread among 150 players.

  • Dropped one of its non economic proposals seeking permission to cull minor league roster sizes, this was tied to a proposal to limit the number of times a player can be optioned in a single season to five. The union has proposed limiting options to four.