MLB pushes back deadline as sides move close to deal

But as the night wore on and reporters on site tweeted endlessly about the literal back-and-forth MLB executives were making from their offices to those occupied by the MLBPA, a glimmer of hope surfaced. If they were willing to keep doing this deep into the night, they must have had reason to believe a deal was within reach.

Then the clock struck midnight, the calendar flipped from February to March - and they were still talking.

No, a new collective bargaining agreement hadn't been approved when the parties finally went home around 2:30 a.m., but by all accounts, it was within reach, a fairly stunning turn of events as a late comeback even the 2019 Nationals would've found daunting seemed to be coming together.

Nats Park day game.jpgAn MLB spokesman told reporters on site the league pushed back its initial deadline until 5 p.m. today, giving the sides a chance to sleep on matters and return fresh for one final round of talks. To be sure, nothing is done. But the signs are far more encouraging than anything this sport has previously thrown out there for public consumption over an interminable, three-month lockout that threatened the start of the 2022 season.

The final hurdles, according to multiple reports, involved the luxury tax thresholds and penalties for clubs who exceed them, and the expansion of the postseason from the current 10-team field to either 12 or 14 contestants.

MLB wanted a 14-team playoff field, and the extra revenue that would generate, while the MLBPA didn't want to go over 12 for fear of watering down the regular season too much. The union wanted a higher luxury tax threshold and lower penalties for clubs who exceed it, while the league wanted to keep the threshold closer to its previous level while increasing penalties for going over.

The haggling continued into the wee hours.

At stake: the prevention of a postponed start to the MLB season for the second time in three years, the first time in 27 years due to a labor issue.

It would be a devastating blow to the sport, one that hasn't been experienced in a generation, but it didn't feel like it would be a surprising outcome given the tenor of negotiations that took place for the last week in Jupiter and until late Monday never appeared to include any meaningful progress.

The dueling proposals put forth by MLB and the MLBPA remained far apart all week, particularly when it came to the hot-button issue of the luxury tax (officially known as the competitive balance tax). The union claimed all along there was still more time to hash out a deal and save opening day, but MLB kept insisting Monday's deadline was legitimate and games would be canceled if no deal was in place in time.

If the two sides couldn't work it out, another season would not begin on time. The reason for the most recent postponement, in 2020, was out of everyone's control. The still-new COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning to ravage our daily lives, and the idea of trying to play professional sports at that moment was preposterous to all invested parties.

This potential postponement, though, would've harkened back painful memories of the last players' strike, which wound up canceling six weeks of the 1994 regular season and the entire postseason, then delayed the start of the 1995 season until April 25, with the traditional 162-game schedule reduced to 144.

There was a key difference to this saga: This was not a players' strike, but a league-instituted lockout, which began on Dec. 2 after the previous CBA expired and was described by commissioner Rob Manfred at the time as a necessary tool to jump-start negotiations.

It did anything but. The first formal proposal from one side to the other wasn't submitted until 43 days later, and the first two-plus months of the lockout included only sporadic meetings between owners and players.

The pace of talks finally picked up last week when the two sides gathered at the Cardinals and Marlins' joint spring training facility in Jupiter for daily discussions. But as details trickled out each afternoon after the offers being put forth, it became clear the parties weren't making any substantive progress.

The threat of Monday's league-imposed deadline perhaps brought some hope of concessions and a middle ground that could be located to appease everyone. Because MLB insisted throughout a minimum four weeks of spring training were necessary before the season could begin, time was about to run out to ensure a March 31 opening day.

A down-to-the-wire comeback Monday night was everyone's only hope. Remarkably, they appeared to rally and force extra innings, only to suspend the game on account of darkness (and a lack of sleep).

They're set to resume today, hoping at long last to complete what would be a stunning comeback. No word if anyone summoned Howie Kendrick out of retirement to help them finish the job.

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