MLB on Thursday made its "first labor proposal since locking out players" Dec. 2, focusing on a "narrow set of issues that did little to encourage players and heightened the likelihood of spring training being postponed," according to sources cited by Passan & Rogers of ESPN.com. Sources said that the league proposed "changes to the arbitration system for players with two-plus years of service, tweaked its proposed draft lottery and offered the ability for teams to earn draft picks if top prospects find early success in the major leagues." Sources said that MLB also continued to "push for a 14-team playoff" and "offered a universal designated hitter." Topics not discussed Thursday that have been in the players' suite of asks include "changes to the competitive-balance tax and raising the minimum salary." While the league indicated before the lockout that it was "not open to considering free agency before six years or changes to the current revenue-sharing plan," the union "could include both in a counterproposal." The timing of the union's rejoinder could be "paramount to salvaging the mid-February reporting date for pitchers and catchers," though multiple sources "fear that negotiations will pick up closer to the end of the month." Sources said that the immediate reaction from players was "negative," with "fears that implementing a scale for two-plus players would at some point open the door to the same for other arbitration-eligible players" (ESPN.com, 1/13). The bargaining session "lasted about an hour" (AP, 1/13).
PLAYERS UNIMPRESSED: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale notes the union now will "reconvene, trying to determine when they will meet again." MLB is expecting the union to "make a counter to their proposals, perhaps next week." The two sides realize they "need to reach an agreement by the first week of February for spring training to start on time" (USA TODAY, 1/14). SI.com's Stephanie Apstein noted the players were "not excited about the league’s latest offer," but they were "not furious, either." A source characterized their reaction as “disappointed.” Another source called their reaction “frustrated." A source said, “Eventually we get to the point of somebody saying, ‘Well, what did you expect?' ... I think too many people thought today there’d be some kind of an agreement. Today represents the start of things" (SI.com, 1/13).
REACTION KEY TO WHAT COMES NEXT: In DC, Chelsea Janes writes the extent of players' disappointment will be "critical to what happens next." The pivotal question entering Thursday’s meeting was "not what would be in the proposal." Instead, it was how the players would "interpret the offer -- as a genuine effort to bridge gaps or a cursory shift -- and whether they would see fit to quickly counter" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/14). SI.com's Tom Verducci wrote "distrust and timing are important elements as negotiations have yet to gain traction." The players are "wary that owners have leveraged the past two or three CBAs in conjunction with efficiency-driven analytics to drive down competition and player costs." Pressure to work toward a deal "increases only as spring training and a full 162-game season become in jeopardy." For instance, the last lockout, in '90, ended on March 18, and players were "in camp two days later." To save the full season, the two sides "agreed to gerrymander the calendar." Opening Day this year is scheduled for March 31 (SI.com, 1/13). THE ATHLETIC's Evan Drellich wrote, "At this point, the issue isn’t so much whether spring training will be delayed. The better question is, why should one believe it will start on time?" (1/13).
MORE ISSUES THAN CBA: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jared Diamond wrote baseball has a "dilemma that goes far beyond the economic system at the heart of the dispute between the owners and players’ union." The average game last season "lasted 3 hours, 11 minutes, an all-time record." The leaguewide batting average of .244 was the "lowest in nearly 50 years." Nearly a quarter of all plate appearances "ended in a strikeout." TV ratings for the World Series were the "second-lowest ever recorded." Baseball’s success moving forward "likely depends on whether the people in charge can find a way to return the sport to something young fans want to watch" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/13).