Union narrows gap with MLB but issues remain blocking deal

Union narrows gap with MLB but issues remain blocking deal
Photo credit: Megan Ellis/Unsplash

NEW YORK (AP) – Negotiators for locked-out players took steps toward Major League Baseball in a counteroffer Wednesday that still left a gap between the bickering sides after Commissioner Rob Manfred let pass his deadline to preserve a 162-game season.

Players dropped their threshold for the luxury tax to $232 million this year, rising to $235 million in 2023, $240 million in 2024 and $245 million in 2025 and $250 million in 2026.

The union had been at $238 million to $263 million in its previous proposal of a week earlier and was within 2.5% of management’s starting figure of $230 million in Tuesday’s proposal. Players were within 3.2% of MLB‘s $242 million for 2026.

Management’s desire for an additional fourth tax threshold at $60 million above the first threshold is among the contentious points remaining.

Players dropped to $65 million from $80 million for their proposed bonus pool for pre-arbitration-eligible players, a day after MLB raised its offer from $30 million to $40 million. The union is asking for $5 million annual increases, while management’s offer is the same for all five years.

The union dropped its proposed minimum salary to $710,000 from $725,000, a figure rising to $780,000 by 2026. Management is at $700,000 this year, rising to $770,000. The union’s proposals on the tax threshold and bonus pool were first reported by The Athletic.

A day after the sides negotiated on and off for 16 1/2 hours until 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, the union held a morning conference call with its executive board.

Union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer and general counsel Ian Penny then walked three blocks through a wintry mix of rain and snow to deliver the proposal to MLB‘s office and a short while later headed back to the union headquarters.

On the 98th day of the lockout, MLB said no additional games had been cancelled and talks will continue.

MLB also is pushing its long-held goal of an international amateur draft, which players have repeatedly refused to accept.

Teams would rotate picking in different quadrants of the first round over a four-year period, and a slotting system would be installed similar to what the union agreed to starting in 2012 for the amateur draft covering residents of the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada.

The international draft proposal includes hard slots that could not be negotiated by individuals. MLB estimates $17 million in additional spending for the drafted international players above the $166.3 million spent by the 30 teams in 2021, plus an additional $6 million on non-drafted players. The draft would start in 2024.

The union’s steadfast opposition to an international draft remains an obstacle to an agreement, and MLB has tied it to dropping direct amateur draft-pick compensation for qualified free agents.

International players would lose the right to pick which team they sign with. The age for the draft would be in the year a player turns 16.

The deadline Tuesday was the third set by MLB in the past two weeks.

Manfred originally set a Feb. 28 deadline for preserving opening day on March 31. After 16 1/2 hours of bargaining in Jupiter, Florida, that began Feb. 28 and ended at 2:30 a.m. the following morning produced progress, Manfred extended that deadline to 5 p.m. the following day.

Talks broke down, and Manfred announced the first two series for each team during the season had been cancelled. Negotiators returned to New York and resumed bargaining on Sunday.

While it appears there is no chance opening day could take place as originally scheduled, MLB told the union that Tuesday was the last possible day to reach an agreement that would allow a modified 162-game schedule, along with full salary and service time needed to reach free agency for players.

Ronald Blum/The Associated Press

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