Spring training games delayed until at least March 5

What had already been widely understood was made official by Major League Baseball this afternoon: Spring training is delayed due to the ongoing labor battle that has yet to produce a new collective bargaining agreement.

With camps across Florida and Arizona supposed to open earlier this week, and with the Grapefruit and Cactus league schedules set to commence Feb. 26, a postponement had become inevitable. In its formal announcement today, MLB - which enacted a lockout of the players when the last CBA expired Dec. 1 - said exhibition games won't begin now until at least March 5.

Ballpark-of-the-Palm-Beaches-Sidebar.jpg"All 30 clubs are unified in their strong desire to bring players back to the field and fans back to the stands," the league said. "The clubs have adopted a uniform policy that provides an option for full refunds for fans who have purchased tickets from any clubs to any spring training games that are not taking place."

The Nationals were scheduled to open their exhibition slate Feb. 26 against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., then host the Marlins in West Palm Beach the following day as part of a split-squad affair. For now, they're still scheduled to travel to Port St. Lucie to face the Mets on March 5, the first of 22 remaining games on their Grapefruit League calendar before they're scheduled to break camp and head north in advance of their March 31 opener at Citi Field.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said a minimum of four weeks are necessary for spring training, no matter when it starts. That means a new CBA would probably need to be agreed upon by the end of next week to allow time for everyone to gather in Florida and Arizona had have several days of workouts before the exhibition games begin.

In today's announcement, MLB said it intends to begin daily, in-person meetings with the MLB Players Association on Monday in a last-gasp attempt to get a deal worked out in time.

"We are committed to reaching an agreement that is fair to each side," the league said. "On Monday, members of the owners' bargaining committee will join an in-person meeting with the Players Association and remain every day next week to negotiate and work hard towards starting the season on time."

The MLBPA took exception to the league's latest claim about the fate of spring training.

"MLB announced today that it "must" postpone the start of spring training games. This is false," the union wrote in a statement. "Nothing requires the league to delay the start of spring training, much like nothing required the league's decision to implement the lockout in the first place. Despite those decisions by the league, players remain committed to the negotiating process."

Note: The Nationals have signed three players to minor league deals in the last week: right-handers Logan Verrett and Ronald Herrera, plus catcher Taylor Gushue.

Verrett has big league experience, pitching in 57 games (16 of them starts) for the Rangers, Mets and Orioles from 2015-17. He's 6-10 with a 4.62 ERA and 1.373 WHIP across 150 innings. The 31-year-old spent last season with the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate, going 11-4 with a 4.74 ERA and 1.219 WHIP.

Herrera appeared in two games for the Yankees in 2017, allowing two runs over three relief innings. The 26-year-old has not been in organized baseball since 2019 with the Rangers organization, spending the last two years pitching in his native Venezuela as well as independent ball in New Jersey.

Gushue returns to the Nationals organization after leaving for the Cubs following the 2020 season. The 28-year-old catcher has appeared in big league exhibition games for the Nats before and hit .312 with 11 homers, 39 RBIs and an .875 OPS for the club's former Triple-A affiliate in Fresno in 2019.

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