Baseball fans may have to grapple with the possibility of a delayed start to the 2022 MLB season, as Major League Baseball is now requesting the use of a federal mediator to aid in ending the lockout looming over the sport.
MLB informed the MLB Players Association on Thursday that it won’t be making a counteroffer to the players’ last proposal, according to The Athletic.
MLB, Players far apart on key issues
That report cited sources who said the league told players earlier in the week that a counteroffer would be coming.
MLB and the MLBPA last met on Tuesday to talk over the economic issues that lie at the heart of the lockout. The players’ union has been asking for more arbitration and pre-arbitration opportunities, particularly for outstanding young players. The league wants to expand the postseason, while both sides are proposing different ways to discourage teams from tanking – something the players’ union says reduces demand for players, artificially depressing salaries.
An MLB.com article outlined the case for including federal mediators in future negotiations. It quotes a 2014 article from Mark Grabowski in Harvard Law School’s Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law, which said that mediations result in an agreement between the parties about three-quarters of the time.
“Regardless of the outcome, mediation is arguably never a waste of time,” Grabowski wrote. “By going through the process, if properly conducted, key issues could be identified that, in turn, could eventually lead to a resolution.”
The MLB.com article also cited recent cases when federal mediators ended labor disputes between major sports leagues and players’ unions. Those included the 2012-13 NHL lockout, as well as the NFL’s lockout of officials in 2012.
Lockout raises specter of 1994 strike
The players’ union is unlikely to agree to federal mediation. That’s in large part due to the MLBPA’s experience with the mediation process in the infamous 1994-95 strike.
“It was a joke. It had no value,” former MLBPA leader Don Fehr told The Athletic in 2019. “There were all kinds of agendas at work in the mediation that had nothing to do with the agendas of the parties trying to resolve the dispute.”
MLB and MLBPA officials also met on Wednesday to discuss non-economic issues. Players offered up a 12-team expanded playoff – smaller than the 14-team postseason owners want – and the league proposed making the designated hitter universal across both leagues. But MLB Network’s Jon Heyman described any movement as “baby steps.”
“Talks haven’t yet begun,” is the way one players side person put it. From here, players did offer a 12-team playoff format and MLB did propose a universal DH and drop free agent compensation. But on the biggest issues it’s been mostly baby steps on both sides.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 2, 2022
Already, it appears as though the lockout will impact the 2022 MLB season. Even if the two sides come to an agreement almost immediately, it’s unlikely that pitchers and catchers would be able to report to camps by Monday, Feb. 14. While there’s still time to save Opening Day for March 31, MLB has told the MLBPA that games could be missed, something some players took as a threat.