JUPITER, Fla. — As time narrows before Monday’s stated date to ensure a full regular season, the longest day of discussions at the Jupiter Summit between Major League Baseball and its players’ union ended with momentum toward an agreement about a major change in the draft.
After four days in Florida with either incremental or decorative exchanges, both sides shared a sense of progress after sundown at Roger Dean Stadium with the possibility that the sides could agree on baseball’s first draft lottery when talks resume Saturday and keep going.
Every path to a deal must be cleared of pebbles and stones.
Boulders are still looming in front of us.
As the second-longest work stoppage in baseball history neared 90 days, leagues canceled spring training games through March 7, an MLB spokesman said.
Three more days of losing exhibition games reflect the owners’ expectation that an agreement on a deal will likely last until the deadline set by Major League Baseball on Monday before it begins canceling regular-season games and thus reducing the salaries of the Players can get paid. The union did not agree to this deadline and secretly expressed doubts about the timely conclusion of an agreement. The MLBPA has responded to the urgency of the deadline by meeting every day this weekend; Meetings are scheduled through Monday.
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Perhaps symbolic of the ticking clock, Commissioner Rob Manfred surprised the union by his presence at the stadium on Friday and met privately with MLBPA chief Tony Clark. Manfred was present at the stadium, an official confirmed, but sided with Roger Dean’s owners. The one-on-one meeting between Manfred and Clark lasted less than 30 minutes and marked the first time since April 2020 that leaders of the two sides are known to have met. This meeting went so lopsided that they each had to provide explanations for their interpretations of a one-on-one conversation.
It is not uncommon for them to be absent from negotiations but present at their individual faction meetings. Manfred has not sat at the table with the union on those negotiations since April, an official confirmed.
Friday’s talks between the two leaders focused on advancing negotiations, an MLB spokesman said.
For the fifth straight day, a group of players jostled with union officials in the Cardinals spring training lot before using the Cardinals building as their headquarters for their discussions and meetings with owners.
Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo, who had ended his day after working on field practice with minor leagues that morning, left the grounds just as the group of players, including St. Louis native Max Scherzer and former reserve of the Cardinals, Andrew Miller, entered the building. Within 5 minutes, the owners had come from their side for the first of three exchanges, not including the Manfred Clark confab.
The original catering brief at Roger Dean Stadium was to provide food to the owners’ meeting spaces through Friday.
The catering was extended until Monday.
While the talks covered the broader, larger issues of the luxury tax and the rift between the two sides on proposed minimum wages and arbitration, the only exchange of proposals on Friday was about the lottery draft. One of the union’s priorities was to reduce incentives to fill up and change the draft so that the worst record does not guarantee the best choice. Both sides agree — the catch was how to get there.
Owners’ counter-proposal on Friday continued to include only the top four picks – not the top seven as the union had proposed – but borrowed some of the restrictions the union had authored to limit how many consecutive years a team could play for the top picks might come into question.
MLB’s proposed draft lottery would include all teams that did not make the playoffs and assign a percentage chance of landing the first pick of the draft based on their final score. The bottom three teams in the standings would all have an equal shot at the first pick, which would diminish the appeal of the tank-and-tumble approach Houston practiced to have three consecutive No. 1 picks from 2012-14. In response to the union’s model, the MLB imposed limits on how many consecutive years a team would be eligible for the lottery before becoming ineligible for higher selections.
The day of negotiations ended with two representatives from the owner side having a brief meeting with the union and bringing a counter-proposal to the other side.
A potential speed bump for the draft swing comes early in the MLB description: the number of teams that didn’t make the playoffs. The two sides remain separated in that number, with the union proposing 12 teams in extended playoffs and the owners seeking 14.
However, the pace of discussions and the length of the day on Friday showed how the next three days must go if an agreement is to be reached before both sides leave Monday and, unless a new CBA is signed, these daily negotiations are halted Regroup in opposite corners. The goal on Friday, each side outlined, was to identify an issue where negotiations could narrow, capitalize on that potential and create momentum for an agreement. Both sides used this description: momentum.
What problems they have won.
What they lacked in others.
If they can finalize a draft lottery architecture that appeals to both parties, they can work that out of the conversations and invest in the next topic, working through the issues and the CBA like a shopping list. The union has made a proposal to reduce the manipulation of service hours and is awaiting word from owners on any progress there. The desire to raise minimum wages, increase the number of players eligible for arbitration, and reduce the power of luxury tax penalties remain goals for the union and obstacles to an agreement to this point.
Both sides are scheduled to meet earlier on Saturday.
You will probably stay later.