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MLB players and owners will meet Thursday. What does this mean for the 2022 season starting on time?

NARRATOR: “Everything... and nothing.”

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Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A number of sources reported Tuesday that MLB owners and representatives from the MLB Players Association would meet Thursday. Here are some details from Evan Drellich at The Athletic:

MLB is preparing to present a new core economics proposal to the Players Association on Thursday, sources confirmed to The Athletic. The meeting, scheduled to take place via videoconference, is the first one focused on core economics since team owners instituted a lockout on Dec. 2.

The resumption of those conversations marks a positive development in the negotiations process. But there is plenty of work to be done if the sides are to reach an agreement and avoid postponement of the originally scheduled February start to spring training (the first slate of games are scheduled for Feb. 26; players typically report to major-league camps two to three weeks ahead of the first game).

Take this with however many grains of salt you wish because of the source (Bob Nightengale of USA Today), but here are some of the previous monetary offers that were rejected by players before the lockout:

MLB is not expected to address free agency or salary arbitration in their proposals, but discuss further ways to de-incentivize tanking among teams, including the elimination of draft pick compensation for teams signing free agents.

Major League Baseball has offered to increase the minimum salary from $570,500 to $600,000, which would rise to $650,000 and $700,000 through the CBA.

The union is seeking the competitive balance tax on payrolls to increase from $210 million to $245 million while the owners have offered a raise to $214 million at the outset.

The purpose of this article is not to analyze any new ownership proposal — because I suspect it’s going to be a non-starter with players — but to try to make some educated guesses on where the 2022 season stands, depending on how fast, or more likely, slowly these negotiations go.

Today is January 12. The Cubs’ first Spring Training game is scheduled for February 26 at Sloan Park against the Dodgers. That’s 45 days from now — just six and a half weeks. Figure that in a “normal” season, pitchers and catchers would report about two weeks before that and position players a handful of days later. Teams all have different reporting dates, but that’s a general average. Further, in that “normal” year many players would be informally at spring complexes a week or two before that, perhaps even by the beginning of February, starting their training regimes. But no MLB player can do that now; camps will be locked up until the lockout ends.

So it might feel like a lot of time. But there really isn’t. If a deal were struck today — and it won’t be — then things could operate normally.

Let’s say there’s a deal by 19 days from now, February 1. That still would be just about enough time for a normal reporting schedule and for the season to begin on time. That doesn’t account for the nearly 200 players who are still free agents and who would all be scrambling for jobs. But that could happen even on a compressed schedule.

But 19 days doesn’t seem nearly enough to get through all the issues between players and owners and reach an agreement.

So let’s push two weeks forward and say there’s a settlement around February 15. That’s about five weeks from now. That could be enough time.

But now we’re into the time when workouts have already begun. And there’s still those 200 unsigned players. Yes, MLB teams could go ahead with the spring schedule that’s already in place using mostly minor-league players, and maybe even shorten some early spring games to seven innings. This wouldn’t be fan-friendly, but I could see owners doing it.

February 15, then, is about the latest date for a settlement without affecting Spring Training or the regular season in a significant way.

Now let’s go further into the future: March 1.

A March 1 deal pushes us into the spring schedule, which would already be several games old if it started on time. Well, now that’s out the window and players still are going to need a couple of weeks to work out before they play any games. So owners would have to take a hit and cancel the first two weeks of spring games if they want the regular season to start on time. That’s a bit of a crunch, but they could probably make it work, with players making up time they’d normally play in spring games instead in intrasquad contests on the back fields.

That’s about a drop-dead date for starting the 2022 season on time and playing 162 games, unless...

Say we’ve gotten to March 15 without a deal and one gets the handshake then, with a go-ahead to start spring camps the next day.

Well, now we’re looking at mid-April at the earliest for Opening Day, because players do need some preparation time. MLB could potentially then take the first two weeks of the season and tack them on to the end of this year’s schedule, currently set for October 2. That would push the end of the World Series to mid-November... which you can, just barely, get away with, but not really any later.

Any settlement between players and owners that happens after mid-March, then, would likely result in a reduced regular season schedule. This happened in 1995, after a court ruling March 31 ended the strike. Replacement players had been signed by MLB teams and were playing spring games, but that ended with this court ruling and about three weeks’ worth of MLB spring games were played beginning April 1 and ending April 25, including a home-and-home Cubs/White Sox set April 24 and 25 (the Sox won both games). A 144-game regular season began April 26.

And that’s about the latest MLB can go before the 2022 season really starts shrinking — a deal around mid-March. That late start was termed by some as “chaotic,” and that’s obviously not what anyone wants.

March 15 is 62 days from today — one day less than nine weeks. That seems like a lot of time, but we’re now 42 days — six weeks — from the beginning of the lockout. It won’t take very long before we get into crunch time.

Let’s hope they can come to a fairly quick, but fair, agreement. Otherwise some or all of the 2022 season could be in jeopardy.

Poll

The 2022 MLB season will start...

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    ... on time, with Spring Training also starting on time
    (54 votes)
  • 18%
    ... a couple of weeks late, with the games missed tacked on to the end of the schedule in October
    (57 votes)
  • 49%
    ... more than a few weeks late, and the season will have fewer than 162 games
    (149 votes)
  • 9%
    ... it won’t, the entire season will be lost
    (30 votes)
  • 4%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (13 votes)
303 votes total Vote Now