MLB, union facing midnight deadline for new labor deal
Major League Baseball, despite immense industry-wide profits, could be hours away from its first labor shutdown in more than 20 years.
After an all-night session Tuesday near Dallas, negotiators for the owners and players union will resume talks today spurred by the urgency of the midnight expiration of the current deal - and to save what is nearly a $10-billion industry enjoying immense popularity following the Cubs World Series win from damaging itself.
If they don't reach agreement, the owners have said they are willing to impose a lockout, which while sounding ominous wouldn't initially have much major impact from the fans' perspective except to stop off-season signings and trades and render next week's winter meetings basically moot. (There are other implications we'll get back to shortly.)
Another option, one already being talked about, is that assuming there is reasonable progress toward a deal to negotiate an extension to the current agreement, allowing talks to continue for a few more hours, days, even weeks.
Unlike past labor battles, there is not one key divisive issue in these talks, instead a combination of smaller points that have created a divide.
The key issues, based on assorted reports, appear to be:
* The players want to eliminate draft-pick compensation being tied to free agency, feeling it limits the market. The owners seem willing to budge here
* Owners wanted to implement an international draft, as a way to further control bonuses paid to foreign-born players and help smaller-market teams like the Rays compete in that arena of player procurement. The owners reportedly backed off that in the last few days and, per ESPN's Jayston Stark, are willing to accept a system with bonus pools that have a set limit.
* Both sides acknowledge there will be changes in the the luxury tax system, with the players, naturally, wanting to increase the threshold of $189-million - for which teams have to pay a penalty if their payroll goes over - and the owners, naturally, wanting to limit any increases. Also in play is whether to change the levels of penalty for going over. (Even though baseball has no salary cap, for some teams this serves as a de facto limit which the players are not fond of.)
* Both sides seem willing to move on roster size, with a common scenario being an increase during the regular season from 25 to 26 in exchange for limits during September, when teams can go up to 40.
* Both sides also want to improve pace of play, with the potential adaption of a 20-second pitch clock, which was used in the minor leagues.
* The players want changes to make the schedule less taxing, and while they are not expected to cut back from 162 games, there is likely to be a mandate for more day games on getaway days, and perhaps more days off worked in by lengthening the schedule.
If the owners do implement a lockout, the players will be impacted, and likely angered. Not only will the free-agent market be put on hold, but teams will stop funding player benefits - including medical plans - and not allow players to work out at team facilities.
While the winter meetings - which are put on by St. Petersburg-based Minor League Baseball - would still be held, major-league teams would not participate, meaning GMs and managers would not attend and there would be no trade talks, stripping the sport of a week of free publicity at a time when teams are selling season tickets and sponsorships.
The last labor shutdown was the 1994-94 players strike.
It sure doesn't seem any of these issues are worth going through that type of battle again.