MESA, Ariz. — The snap of leather and the creak of wood reverberated through Bell Bank Park, a sprawling sports and entertainment facility equipped with artificial-turf baseball fields and a spacious weight room. The pro players, somewhere in the neighborhood 30 of them, held bullpen sessions and batting practice there Tuesday, another critical day in an ongoing labor dispute that delayed spring training and threatened the 2022 season.
Major League Baseball declared the deadline Tuesday for playing a full 162-game season to pay players for a full year of work. This came eight days after the league-imposed deadline to play Opening Day as scheduled and 97 days after the expiration of a previous collective bargaining agreement, which triggered the owner-imposed lockout.
The strategy of using deadlines to trigger actions did not go unnoticed by players.
“It’s an interesting concept,” said Chicago White Sox closer, Liam Hendricks. “It’s been frustrating from a player standpoint.”
Hendriks, among a handful of alternate union representatives on his team, wore a black cap and a black T-shirt emblazoned with the MLB Players Association logo. The MLBPA opened camp shortly after talks in Jupiter, Florida, broke down last week to give players a place to train while the lockout persisted. About 80 of them have put their names on the list of interested participants, and a growing number of them have continued to leak in recent days.
Mitch Haniger of the Seattle Mariners, austin slater of the San Francisco Giants, Kyle Hendricks of the Chicago Cubs, and Brusdar Graterol and Blake Trenen, of the Los Angeles Dodgers were among the Major League Baseball players in attendance. (Trevor Bauerwho spent the final four months of the 2022 season on the restricted list while fighting sexual assault charges, made a brief appearance and left without speaking to the media).
The union and the league have been engaged in talks since the two sides left Jupiter, an encouraging sign for those who wondered if the postponement of Opening Day could cause a delay in the negotiation. The two sides met face-to-face in New York for about 20 minutes on Tuesday, but were expected to continue negotiations overnight. There was optimism across the industry after reports surfaced that owners had agreed to an increase in the competitive balance tax threshold, but Slater, the Giants’ player representative, stood his ground.
“I told myself not to get my hopes up too high,” he said. “We’re going to let them negotiate. I want a deal done. I hope the owners want a deal done. As players, we’re sticking to our points. We want something that’s a fair share of the pie. And that’s all. what we’re asking for right now. Hopefully there’s some movement today. If not, we’re willing to hold out until there is.”
Players have withdrawn from previous free agency initial requests, automatic arbitration after two years of service time and a decrease in revenue sharing. The gap now, at least with respect to the core economy, revolves around minimum wages, the competitive balance tax, and the amount of money that will fund a new pool of players that will provide additional compensation to players who are not yet eligible for arbitration.
As the process progressed and the two sides inched closer, the league imposed timelines for game cancellations with the idea that players would need a minimum of four weeks to be ready for the regular season. But players and union leaders are wary of the league using those deadlines to pressure them into a deal they aren’t comfortable with, an idea put forward by Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, Ross Striplingwhen he told Sportsnet.ca that the league was trying to “sneak stuff through us” as he negotiated into the wee hours of the morning on March 1.
“I don’t understand why it’s taken so long to get to a point where we’re a little bit close,” Hendriks said. “We’re close, and then certain things are added at the end just to try to beat us. And I think Ross Stripling said it best: They treat us like those dumb athletes.”
The league canceled the first two series of the regular season after the two sides failed to reach an agreement early last week and threatened to cancel another week of games if a new CBA is not forthcoming Tuesday. Commissioner Rob Manfred initially stated that games missed could not be made up, but the league has since softened that stance, stating that players can be in spring training camps as soon as Friday and that the six or seven games lost can be recovered. with days off and double.
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Players ‘solid in position’ on deadline day