The chances of starting spring training on time all but disappear

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NEW YORK (AP) — The slim chance of a timely start to spring training had all but vanished Tuesday during a contentious 90-minute negotiation session between suspended players and Major League Baseball.

The players made two slight moves during their first meeting in a week.

The union lowered its proposed cash pool for players eligible before the arbitration from $105 million to $100 million.

The union also reduced the number of players to be awarded WAR an extra year in the major leagues to the top 20 at each position in each league or the top 7, depending on position, from 30 to 10.

A meeting on non-economic issues is scheduled for Wednesday and there is no date for talks to resume on key issues such as luxury tax thresholds.

Given the lack of urgency in talks to end a work stoppage that began December 2, both sides are acting as if it is a foregone conclusion that spring training will not begin on February 16 as planned.

Players aren’t collecting their salaries until the regular season, which is set to start on March 31, making it unlikely that any major moves will come until mid to late February at the earliest.

A minimum of three weeks of training and exhibition matches is required for the start of the season, with additional time for players to report to training camps and undergo COVID-19 protocols beforehand.

As a sign of the lack of progress, the players’ union is providing $5,000 in stipends to its members. The union had $178.5 million in cash, U.S. Treasury bonds and investments as of December 31, 2020, according to its latest financial disclosure form filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Baseball’s ninth walkout and first since 1995 began when the five-year contract expired on December 1.

Players are demanding that salary arbitration eligibility be extended to those with two years of service, the level from 1974 to 1986 when it was increased to three years. In the lapsed agreement, it was three years plus the top 22% by tenure of players with at least two years but less than three years.

Management last week approved the concept of a pre-arbitration pool for players offering $10 million.

To address the alleged manipulation of service time, teams suggested that any player called up in August or September and qualified for Rookie of the Year the following season would be counted towards additional amateur draft picks .

The union said on Tuesday it was ready to accept this concept with changes.

The extra service time would go to the top seven players at each position in each league by average fangraphs and baseball reference WAR, except for starting pitchers, relief pitchers and outfielders, where it would be 20 in each category. The union made a proposal to deal with alleged clubs delaying players’ debuts, as in the case of Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant.

Players have asked for the luxury tax threshold, designed to slow spending by high-grossing teams, to be raised from $210 million to $245 million, and teams have offered $214 million.

MLB proposed raising the major league minimum salary from $570,700 to $615,000 for players with less than a year in the big league — but with a commission, teams couldn’t pay more than that amount — $650,000 for at least a year, but less than two and $700,000 for at least two. Players have suggested a minimum of $775,000.

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