By RONALD BLUM
JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Baseball players and owners took a first step toward salvaging opening day, nearing agreement Friday on an amateur draft lottery during lockout negotiations that included a surprise one-on-one meeting between Commissioner Rob Manfred and union head Tony Clark.
While an agreement on the draft was not complete, talks appeared to gain momentum for the first time.
Talks will continue Saturday. Major League Baseball has set a Monday deadline for a deal that would ensure a 162-game season and allow openers to take place as scheduled on March 31.
MLB also said spring training games had been canceled through March 7. Exhibition games were to have begun Saturday but previously had been wiped out through March 4.
The sides met three times Friday, in addition to the session between Manfred and Clark. That came after four straight days of largely fruitless negotiating sessions that focused on exchanging proposals in areas of relative minutia.
Manfred was seen at the talks for the first time, talking with both sides at Roger Dean Stadium, the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins.
The owners’ delegation included Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, Colorado CEO Dick Monfort, Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem and Executive Vice President Morgan Sword.
Clark led a delegation of players that included Max Scherzer, Andrew Miller and Zack Britton from the union’s eight-man executive subcommittee.
On the 86th day of baseball’s ninth work stoppage, its first since 1995, the sides still had to work on many key economic issues: luxury tax thresholds and rates, the minimum salary and the size of a bonus pool for pre-arbitration players.
The union had offered a pair of new proposals Thursday, making small changes to its plan for a lottery to determine the first seven picks in the amateur draft and to its formula for top young players get credit for additional major league service. Teams say they will never agree to the additional service time, which could lead to earlier free agency.
The union wants to increase arbitration eligibility and to decrease revenue sharing, concepts management says it will never accept.
Players have not accepted Monday as a deadline and have suggested any missed games could be made up as part of doubleheaders, a method MLB said it will not agree to.
Once Monday passes, the length of the schedule would become yet another issue in the dispute along with possible lost pay and service time.
The union has told MLB if games are missed and salaries are lost, clubs should not expect players to agree to management’s proposals to expand the postseason and to allow advertisements on uniforms and helmets.
Spring training workouts were to have started Feb. 16.