After three long months, it's deadline day (maybe)

Major League Baseball's lockout began three months ago. Three long months. And the reason those three months have felt so long was the fact we knew all along there was little chance of anything getting done until owners and players faced a real deadline with real pressure. In other words, the postponement of opening day.

Well, three long months later, we've finally arrived at deadline day. Maybe.

In MLB's eyes, today is the deadline. Commissioner Rob Manfred has made it painfully clear the league will start canceling regular season games if the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement isn't in place by the end of the day. He said that based on the rationale that a minimum of four weeks of spring training are needed, plus at least a few days prior to camps opening to give everyone a chance to get going again.

And sure enough if you take one look at the calendar, you'll notice we are now 31 days away from the scheduled March 31 season opener for all 30 clubs. Even if a deal was struck today, it's an awfully tight window to properly prepare for an on-time opening day, but MLB believes it's still doable.

Thumbnail image for Nats-Park-Fans-Watch-Zimmerman-Hit-Sidebar.jpgSo the pressure - real pressure - is finally on the league and the players union to figure out some sort of workable compromise today, or else acknowledge the 2022 season will not begin on time and may not include a full 162-game schedule.

Except the MLB Players Association doesn't entirely agree with that sentiment. The union has been insisting today isn't a hard deadline, that there's still some wiggle room in the next few days to finish the deal and still be ready for play March 31.

Beyond that, there's the question of whether MLB even has the authority to unilaterally shorten the 162-game season without the players' consent, seeing as how the schedule is part of every CBA.

So are the bigwigs assembled in Jupiter, Fla., truly facing a do-or-die deadline today? (Insert shrug emoji here.)

This much is certain: The last week of face-to-face negotiations, the first legitimate back-and-forth between the two parties since this whole mess began, has not produced the kind of positive momentum you would think is needed to get this done today. You'd think there would've needed to be more incremental movement from both sides toward a middle ground to put them in a better position to hash out the final details during these final 24 hours. And by all accounts, there hasn't.

Which isn't to say it's not still possible. Again, a deadline can do wonders to push two bitter sides toward an actual agreement. Nobody stands to win if opening day doesn't take place as planned. Nobody.

Is that enough of a motivator to make this happen? (Insert shrug emoji.)

Unfortunately, it has been clear throughout this interminable process that the resentment between owners and players is significant, as significant as it has been in 27 years. Not that we didn't already know this going in. The evidence was right there in front of our eyes all along, never more so than during the tortured negotiations to try to cobble together a condensed season in 2020.

We suggested at the time that was merely a precursor to the larger fight that was coming this winter, and wouldn't you know that's exactly how this played out.

The stakes are greater this time around, though. There is far more money to be lost. And there is far more goodwill to be lost for a sport that simply can't afford to lose any more goodwill.

Would a delayed 2022 season produce a meaningful drop in revenues? Would attendance plummet? Would television ratings fall? Would some fans turn their backs on baseball and never return? (Insert shrug emoji.)

We don't know the answers to those questions yet, but we're on the verge of finding out. And if the combatants in this fight have any possible common interest to latch onto at this late stage of the game, that would be it. You sure want to believe none of them wants to take this risk, given the stakes.

So they'll give it one more go today (and probably tonight as well) in Jupiter, pleading with the other side to make concessions while hopefully being willing to do the same themselves when asked. And by the time the calendar officially flips to March 1, we'll finally know whether these interminable three months produced a satisfactory result, or whether baseball is about to jump over the cliff, arms locked, bracing for whatever impact awaits down below.

How's this all going to end? (Insert shrug emoji.)

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