NEW YORK – The threat to opening day on March 31 appeared to intensify Thursday when the drawn-out talks to end Major League Baseball’s lockout ended just 15 minutes after they resumed following a four-day break.
What was supposed to be the second day of spring training workouts instead was the 78th day of the second-longest work stoppage in baseball history. After just the sixth meeting on core economics since the lockout began Dec. 2, the sides had differing interpretations of the brevity: The union didn’t read much into the short session, and management attributed the lack of length to having nothing to talk about.
"I’m pretty sure I’ve had at bats longer than this meeting," New York Mets infielder Luis Guillorme tweeted.
While there is a session scheduled for Friday on non-core issues, there is no set date for the resumption of the main talks. The sides have about two weeks left to reach a deal that would allow sufficient spring training ahead of an on-time opening.
“I just hope something gets resolved quickly," Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu said before the meeting, just after working out with teammate Aaron Judge at a college field in Tampa, Florida. "Baseball becomes a business — it’s not as fun, but it’s something that definitely needs to happen.”
At this point, MLB has not even acknowledged publicly that exhibition openers won’t come off as scheduled on Feb. 26. The union told MLB it was prepared to meet every day next week.
There was no discussion of key issues such as luxury tax thresholds and rates, the minimum salary, the union's proposal to decrease revenue sharing and the players’ allegations of service time manipulation. The sides remain far apart in all those areas and also differ on the postseason: Owners want to expand the playoffs from 10 teams to 14, while players are offering 12.
Still, the union's change in arbitration moved the sides closer in structure for when they actually start intensive negotiations. Without the imminent threat of losses caused by missing regular-season games, both sides appear hesitant to reveal bottom-line positions.
Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem, Executive Vice President Morgan Sword and Senior Vice President Patrick Houlihan made the five-minute walk from MLB’s West Midtown office to the players’ association’s East Midtown workplace on an usually warm winter afternoon.
Sword and Houlihan left shortly after they arrived, and Halem remained for a 20-minute, one-on-one meeting with Bruce Meyer, the union's chief negotiator. That talk was described as unusually candid.
Negotiators on both sides planned to discuss the state of the talks with their constituencies.
The union dropped its request to lower salary arbitration eligibility to two years of major league service, its level from 1974-86. Instead, players proposed the so-called super-two group be expanded to the top 80% by service time among those with at least two years but less than three from 22%, its level since 2013.
Both sides would keep the provision that 86 days of service in the most recent season are required. MLB estimates the union plan would make 97 additional players eligible for arbitration this year.
Clubs have said increasing arbitration eligibility and decreasing revenue sharing are non-starters.
The union also increased the proposed bonus pool for pre-arbitration players from $100 million of central revenue to $115 million, a move the clubs received as a backward step. Teams have agreed to the concept but have offered $15 million.
The union expanded proposed eligibility for the bonus pool from 30 players to 150. It would be distributed based on WAR, appearances on an all-MLB team and recognition such as best position player, best pitcher and best rookie.
Players made proposals in six non-economic areas that included the Joint Drug Program, international play, and health and safety.
Associated Press Writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.
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