JUPITER, Florida — Baseball players and owners took a first step toward salvaging opening day as agreement neared Friday for an amateur draft lottery during shutdown negotiations that included a surprise one-on-one meeting between Commissioner Rob Manfred and union president Tony Clark.
While agreement on the draft was not completed, the talks appeared to be gaining momentum for the first time.
Talks will continue on Saturday. Major League Baseball has set a Monday deadline for a deal that would guarantee a 162-game season and allow the openers as scheduled on March 31.
The two sides met three times Friday, in addition to a session between Manfred and Clark. This came after four consecutive days of largely fruitless negotiation sessions that focused on exchanging proposals in areas of relative detail.
Manfred is seen in the talks for the first time, speaking with both sides at Roger Dean Stadium, home of spring training for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins.
The delegation of owners included Yankees Managing Partner Hal Steinbrenner, Colorado CEO Dick Monfort, Deputy Commissioner Dan Halim and Executive Vice President Morgan Sword.
On the 88th day of baseball’s ninth hiatus, the first since 1995, the two sides still had to work on several key economic issues: welfare tax thresholds and rates, minimum salary and the size of the bonus pool for pre-arbitration players.
The league introduced a pair of new proposals Thursday, making small changes to its lottery plan to determine the top seven selections in the amateur draft and to its formula for senior young players for credit for additional major league service. Teams say they will never agree to additional service time, which could lead to a previous free agency.
The union wants to increase arbitration eligibility and reduce revenue sharing, and Concept Management says it will never accept it.
Players did not accept Monday as a deadline and suggested that any missed games could be part of a double-headed game, a method the MLB said it would not agree with.
Once Monday passes, the length of the schedule will become another issue in dispute besides the potential for loss of pay and service time.
The federation told MLB that if games are lost and salaries are lost, clubs should not expect players to agree to management’s proposals to expand the post-season period and allow advertising on uniforms and helmets.
Spring rehearsals were scheduled to begin on February 16. The exhibition games were scheduled to begin on Saturday but have already been canceled through March 4.
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