The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

MLB, union have another late-night bargaining session as clock keeps ticking on full season

The MLB lockout began in December. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

NEW YORK — With a week of regular season games already canceled and more doomed without a deal, Major League Baseball’s negotiating team met with representatives for the players union multiple times Tuesday, chatting on the phone and via Zoom.

At least once, a few MLB officials wandered over to MLB Players Association headquarters to talk in person. MLB had informed the union that a deal Tuesday could leave time to play a complete 162-game season, with players receiving their full salaries, but that no deal would lead to more canceled games. Then again, MLB had established deadlines like that before.

But as of 11:30 p.m., the sides were still talking. People familiar with the negotiations indicated no deal was done. But they did not rule out the possibility that one could get done overnight. At 3 a.m., an MLB official said the union had requested time to meet with its board before responding to the league’s latest proposal on Wednesday morning. No games were canceled, with a deal still possible at that time.

Maybe Tuesday night really was the last possible minute, the last day that would leave enough time for four weeks of spring training and a 162-game regular season, as MLB officials had indicated.

Or maybe it wasn’t really the last minute at all, just another carrot waved by the owners to push the players into more concessions. That the owners and the union couldn’t even agree on what qualified as a deadline was emblematic of the animosity that has been both a driving force and a constant presence over a three-month lockout that has consumed the first three weeks of spring training.

Either way, the daytime hours came and went with plenty of talking and no firm news of a deal — but no news of an unresolvable dispute, either.

The Post's Chelsea Janes explains what led to the lockout between the MLB players union and team owners, which has already resulted in canceled games. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

The issues at stake were the same ones these sides have disagreed on for months, the ones on which they’ve exchanged numbers and traded proposals time and time again. The players want to set the competitive balance tax (CBT) at a higher number than ever, one that accounts for rising revenue. The owners want a 14-team postseason to maximize television money. Everything from the minimum salary to how much money should be available to reward elite young players beyond that minimum was still on the table, as were an international draft, the power to make rule changes and more.

But something was different Tuesday: Until late in the evening, little information about when and where and if the talks were happening had leaked. Until Tuesday night, when the Athletic reported details of an MLB proposal that included the highest CBT thresholds the owners have offered yet, few details of the negotiations had leaked — a far cry from the numbers that seemed to pour out of the negotiating rooms during a long night of talks last week.

The shift was noteworthy because leaked details of offers and the resulting commentary on social media have frustrated those in the room — particularly some on MLB’s side — who felt outside pressure was changing inside outcomes. And when the sides marched toward a deadline like this a week ago in Jupiter, Fla., spokesmen for both sides issued statements by the middle of the day, prematurely blaming the other side for failing to reach a deal by an evening deadline that had not yet arrived. For much of Tuesday, both sides made concerted efforts to keep the details of the negotiations in-house — an indication, perhaps, that progress was being made that neither side wanted to see undone.

But even some progress wouldn’t necessarily be enough; on Sunday, an MLB spokesman described the state of the negotiations as “deadlocked.” People familiar with MLB’s thinking clarified that the statement did not mean to suggest the sides had reached the kind of impasse that would have legal implications for the future of the talks. But MLB did suggest that the union’s latest proposal had gone backward from its previous positions, a consistent frustration as the union has tried to avoid making concessions in one area without making up ground in another.

MLB has taken a similar tack, tying compromise in some areas of the deal to its preferred positions on others, according to people familiar with the negotiations. The owners have agreed to make moves in some areas if the union makes moves in others, with issues intertwined rather than negotiated one by one. And even a major monetary concession from the owners could look less appealing if tied to a structural change the players believed would cost them over time.

Exactly where those numbers and trade-offs stood as of Tuesday evening was unclear, and people familiar with the talks made sure to dampen optimism. After all, they had talked late into the night before and emerged without a deal. In these negotiations, progress is as slow as it is fragile.