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Are MLB players and owners making progress in talks? It depends on who you ask

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There’s still a wide gulf that has to be crossed to end the lockout.

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

MLB players and owners met twice this week and discussed some of the issues keeping them from making a deal. They’re supposed to meet again, though no specific date has been set.

I found two articles published not long after the second of these meetings happened, and depending on which one you read, you’d either be wildly optimistic or glumly pessimistic about baseball’s future.

Here, let me show you what I mean.

First, an article appeared Tuesday on MLB.com — the league’s own outlet — written by Mark Feinsand, who is generally considered a good reporter, on this topic. It was headlined “Significant progress made in CBA meeting.”

Here’s how it begins:

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association met for a second straight day on Tuesday, with the league making a significant move to create a path to a deal.

One day after the MLBPA rejected the league’s proposals that included significant increases in pay for players with two-plus years of service time — a plan that included the best players earning even more in bonuses based on performance — MLB returned with a proposal based on a framework initially presented by the MLBPA, according to a source.

This makes it sound like the league is giving players what they want, but players are just rejecting what MLB proposes. Obviously, this isn’t all of the story.

For a counterpoint, here’s an article by Susan Slusser in the San Francisco Chronicle headlined “Second day of baseball labor talks cordial but ‘disingenuous,’ Giants’ Slater says.” (“Slater” is Austin Slater, the Giants’ player representative.”)

Here’s what Slater said:

While MLB showed some willingness to come toward the players on some issues, including more pay for those with zero to three years of service time, the union believes the concessions weren’t close to enough — Slater called the moves “disingenuous” and “a smokescreen” — while some of the players’ top priorities, such as ensuring competitive balance and making sure the top spending clubs aren’t penalized for improving their rosters, aren’t being adequately addressed.

“It’s frustrating,” Slater said. “We see it all as one enormous economic package with a lot of pieces that play off one another, with the competitive-balance tax near the top of the list of things that we see as hugely important. To not even acknowledge that it’s a huge driving force in our game was a little disheartening.”

While Slater did give the league some credit to moving closer to player positions, it sure doesn’t sound like the Tuesday talks were “a significant move to create a path to a deal.”

From the MLB.com article, again:

MLB’s proposals include higher minimum salaries, access to early-career bonuses, as well as an increase in the CBT threshold. The league’s proposal is also designed to make it more likely for top prospects to earn a full year of service time in their first season. Under the proposal, players would receive a minimum of $258,500 more over their first three years of service, which represents a 15% raise from the current figures.

Sounds great, right? Uh... but we already know that the increases proposed in minimum salaries don’t even keep up with inflation, and that MLB owners have proposed only a tiny increase in the CBT threshold, from $210 million to $214 million. Players have proposed $245 million. The MLB.com article doesn’t mention those numbers. The Chronicle article does.

From the Chronicle article, here’s what the players want (among other things):

At the same time, there are few incentives in place to ensure smaller payroll teams aren’t just tanking.

To sum up the union’s position: The teams that want to pay more for players can’t do so freely, and the teams that don’t want to spend much at all aren’t incurring consequences for failing to do so.

“I’d hesitate to call it movement,” said one source with direct knowledge of the bargaining session. “The players’ reaction to this universally was, ‘What the f—, are you kidding me?’”

And so, we wait. The MLB.com article concludes with some other proposals, including eliminating draft pick compensation and details on an expanded postseason, neither of which is what most would consider a “core economic issue.” Those are the things that have to be settled before a deal can be struck.

Meanwhile, the Chronicle article reminds us:

Minor-leaguers not on the 40-man roster have been told to report to spring training Feb. 21, but it’s becoming tough to imagine that big leaguers will be reporting then. The next round of bargaining sessions between the union and MLB have not yet been scheduled.

“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done for us to cross the finish line before spring training,” Slater said.

So, they talked this week. In my view, they didn’t get very far, and the clock’s ticking on spring training.

Repeat after me: “As always, we await developments.”