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OC Register: Reports: MLB, players’ union to hold bargaining session Thursday

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NEW YORK — Major League Baseball and the players’ association are scheduled to meet on Thursday, ending a 42-day break in negotiations that began when management started a lockout, the sport’s first work stoppage since 1995.

With the scheduled start of spring training five weeks away, management was planning to make a new proposal to players, multiple media outlets reported on Tuesday. No official announcement was made.

The sides last met Dec. 1 in Irving, Texas, a brief session that broke off hours before the collective bargaining agreement expired. Since then, negotiations have been limited to peripheral issues. The meeting Thursday is scheduled to be conducted by video conference.

MLB payrolls dropped 4% in 2021 compared to the league’s last full season in 2019, and the $4.05 billion total was the lowest in a fully completed year since 2015.

Players have asked for liberalized eligibility for free agency and salary arbitration, raising the luxury tax threshold from $210 million to $245 million, changes to spark increased competition among clubs and measures to address what the union claims is service time manipulation.

Management has offered to increase the tax threshold to $214 million, to extend the designated hitter to the National League and to eliminate draft pick compensation for losing players in free agency, a provision that has existed in various forms since 1976.

Both sides would increase the minimum salary, players from $570,500 to $775,000 this season and management to a series of tiers: $600,000 for players with less than a year of big-league service, $650,000 for at least one but less than two and $700,000 for at least two.

Negotiators also have discussed an NBA-style draft lottery, but management would limit it to the top three teams and the union would expand it to the top eight. Players would reward small-market teams with additional draft picks for success, such as making the playoffs or finishing with a winning record.

Retired pitcher David Cone, a member of the union’s executive subcommittee during the 1994-95 strike, views the issues as less contentious than during the previous stoppage, when players fought off management’s proposal for a salary cap.

“I think there is the framework for a deal. Back in the mid-90s there was two completely different frameworks,” Cone, now an analyst for the Yankees’ YES Network and ESPN, said. “They are within the same framework: Where does the luxury tax fall? Can the players address control issues and competitive teams instead of tanking? Or service time manipulation certainly is an issue. So control issues on the player side, but the framework I believe is there for a deal. At some point, I believe it’s going to happen.”

The union, in its latest proposal, said it was open to expanded playoffs – with 12 teams, as opposed to the 14 the league is seeking – and allowing the league to put advertising patches on jerseys.

Baseball’s ninth work stoppage began on Dec. 2, its ninth since 1972 but first since the 7½-month strike in 1994-95.

Should the meeting set the sides on a course toward a deal, it could salvage starting spring training on time, which both sides in recent weeks have reportedly characterized as in peril. Spring training is scheduled to start on Feb. 16 in Florida and Arizona, and Opening Day is set for March 31.

With the need for at least three weeks of spring training and time for players to arrive and go through COVID protocols, an agreement by about March 5 is needed for an on-time start to the season.

Because of the lockout, a number of logistical issues – from the 100-plus free agents still without jobs to the expired visas of players not from the United States – will be prevalent and are expected to lead to a scramble regardless of when a deal is struck.

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