Drayer: This will be the most critical week of the MLB lockout

Feb 20, 2022, 10:04 AM

Mariners general...

Baseballs sit in a glove as the Mariners warm up before a game against the Los Angeles Angels. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

If you have somehow managed to avoid panic during the MLB lockout about the prospect of anything but a 162-game MLB season, congratulations. Your clock has been set for the 11th hour – which when it comes to the relations between the league and the MLB Players Association had to have been the most optimistic positive outcome in the two sides coming to agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Spring training games through March 4 canceled due to MLB lockout

Well, here we are. With just over a week to go before Feb. 28, which is the date MLB has told the MLBPA an agreement would need to be made by in order for the regular season to start on time, it is safe to say this week is crunch time.

The question now is whether this “deadline” will spark a deal to end the lockout and keep opening day on March 31.

It is certainly what everyone who loves this game is hoping, with many not terribly optimistic considering what we have seen leading up to this threshold.

The failed negotiations during the early days of the pandemic to get the game on the field quickly when it was most needed two years ago.

The owners-instituted lockout, which MLB commissioner Rob Manfred claimed to be put in place to jumpstart negotiations.

The league waiting 43 days to deliver a response to a previous proposal from the players.

Then there are the proposals and the news that the latest from the league left the players “unimpressed” following a meeting that lasted just 15 minutes. Not good, right?

Well, I wouldn’t put too much into the reaction or presentation. As ESPN’s Jeff Passan has been qualifying in initial Tweets about these meetings when they first occur, “There is no deal today. There was never going to be a deal today.” Deals don’t happen immediately after presentations. This isn’t like negotiating a car deal. More than one sheet of paper is exchanged. The most recent proposal by MLB was 130 pages that needed to be dissected and shared with the full union.

Still, a little more time spent together, a little more face-to-face discussion would have been nice, but that to date has not been part of this painful process, a process that has been dictated by MLB as it elected to lock the players out and control the pace of negotiations. This dance likely was very carefully mapped out well in advance, all leading to crunch time and the critical week ahead.

This week should be different as actual bargaining sessions have been scheduled. The issues that each side is ready to fight for have been narrowed down. Is just over a week long enough to bridge the immense divide in the core economics proposals between the two sides? We shall see.

While it is tempting to try to find a positive in assuming that neither side wants to see games lost, we don’t know how either side would weigh games – which translates to dollars – versus getting what they want now. It is certainly nervous time.

In the meantime, clubs are incomplete with trades and deals yet to be made, and players are in a holding pattern in getting ready for a season. Pitchers are faced with the dilemma of when to start ramping up knowing that when this is settled they will be looking at an abbreviated spring training. How many bullpens under the close watch of coaches and trainers will they get to throw before having to pitch in games? Pitchers and hitters who feel an odd tweak or soreness are in the uncomfortable position of not being able to check in with team trainers or coaches for guidance. “Should I back off? Should I see someone?”

Minor league players on MLB teams’ 40-man rosters are in a particularly tough spot. With a shortened spring training, it is not likely they will be afforded many looks as getting the major leaguers ready will be the priority. Yet those 40-man players cannot report to minor league camp or participate in the minicamps currently underway. Players coming off injury are perhaps in a similar boat. They need more time, not less.

A season will begin eventually, but even if it does start on time, damage has already been done. Players not having a normal spring – and ramp up to spring – will be reflected in early-season injuries. Top prospects on 40-man rosters will lose development time. And let’s not forget the fans. Some of the game’s best fans will have seen hard-earned dollars lost as vacation plans are wiped out with the cancellation of spring games. If this is collateral damage from using a deadline to get a deal done, was it truly necessary?

Unfortunately, that’s where we are right now with the game of baseball. Let’s hope the damage is kept at a minimum and much is accomplished at the bargaining table this week.

More on MLB lockout and Mariners

Jake & Stacy: Four young Mariners on the hot seat entering ’22
Breakout M’s Candidate: Cal Raleigh’s high ceiling at catcher
Breakout M’s Candidate: Andrés Muñoz could be next lights-out reliever
Breakout M’s Candidate: Logan Gilbert built for big moments
Breakout M’s Candidate: Shannon Drayer on Jarred Kelenic in Year 2
Drayer: Why legacy could be the key to ending MLB lockout

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Drayer: This will be the most critical week of the MLB lockout