Friday's news of the Major League Baseball Players Association declining the league's request to bring a government mediator into the stalled negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement made for a dour start to the weekend.
As a new week arrives, we're all left wondering a seemingly simple, yet perhaps not-actually-simple question: What happens now?
We don't have an official answer yet, but the actions of both parties in the next 48 hours or so should give us a good clue about their intentions, and whether there's still any hope of a quick resolution that could still allow spring training to begin soon.
With no mediator involvement for now, MLB and the union are left to try to pick up negotiations with each other again. But before that happens, the league needs to figure out its next plan of attack. And it appears it will do so while gathering with representatives from all 30 clubs during the already scheduled quarterly owners meetings taking place early this week in Florida.
Though there may be other matters discussed at those meetings, the lockout obviously will be topic No. 1. Commissioner Rob Manfred and his labor team should be presenting the owners with a recap of what's happened to date and a proposal for moving forward. What happens next should provide our first answer to the larger question at hand.
If the owners support a return to negotiations, Manfred and company will set that up with the MLBPA, and you'd like to think they'll do that ASAP.
There are different types of negotiations, of course. To date, the few face-to-face sessions that have taken place have seen some movement by both sides, but not nearly enough to believe they're anywhere close to finding a middle ground. If the owners insist on sticking to their guns, the next round of talks probably won't go very far.
If, however, there is consensus agreement to respond to the union with some kind of more significant move toward the middle, we might actually see some real progress being made.
Of course, it's also up to the players to hold up their end of the process and make some significant concessions of their own, helping bridge the vast gap that still exists between the two sides. To date, there's been little indication either party is willing to move that much, but perhaps the calendar is finally going to play a role in pushing things along.
As we've been saying for more than two months now, the likelihood of a deal getting done before the sides faced any kind of pressing deadline was remote. Now, though, we're a week away from the scheduled reporting date for pitchers and catchers, less than two weeks away from the scheduled reporting date for position players, less than three weeks away from the commencement of the Grapefruit and Cactus League openers.
If something's going to happen to keep spring training on schedule, it has to happen now. Even a delayed, condensed spring training would probably require a deal by sometime next week, given the time everyone needs to make plans, finish signing the huge number of remaining free agents, and begin assembling in Florida and Arizona.
No, an agreement isn't necessary quite yet. But to get an agreement in time, actual progress is mandatory this week.
It's up to the league and the union to make it happen. All the rest of us interested parties can do is sit back, watch and hope.