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Lockout delays MLB spring training

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Spring is on the way, but spring training is currently postponed. Major League Baseball is in the middle of another work stoppage. This time, team owners want a better deal and have locked the players out for over two months now. Negotiations are ongoing, but the February 28 deadline for a new deal without postponing the regular season is coming fast. To help us understand all of this is Evan Drellich. He covers Major League Baseball for The Athletic and joins me now from Jupiter, Fla., where the two sides are meeting. Welcome back.

EVAN DRELLICH: Thanks for having me, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So first, to be clear, this is a lockout. Like, it's not a players strike, right? Like, what's the difference?

DRELLICH: When you have a work stoppage, you have the option of the employer using the economic weapon or the employees, and it would be a strike if the employees decided to walk out. But what's happened in professional sports ever since the 1994 and 1995 baseball strike is that owners in all the major sports had not allowed employees even the chance to walk out. When collective bargaining agreements expire, they immediately lock out, and that's what we've seen in baseball.

RASCOE: So what do the owners want? Why are they doing this? Like, teams have been making a good amount of money recently, right?

DRELLICH: Correct. Even though it is an owner lockout, it is the players who, for years, have been vocal about wanting changes. The owners, I think, would mostly say they're happy with the status quo. The last two collective bargaining agreements in baseball have moved by general industry consensus in the owners' direction.

RASCOE: So what do the players want? What are the changes that the players are looking for?

DRELLICH: We've seen a trend in baseball toward younger players, and younger players are considerably cheaper. Players in most sports don't make really big money until they become free agents. But it takes time to become free agents. And so one of the things that players are trying to get is higher minimum salaries.

But there are other issues. There's the luxury tax in baseball, something that was designed to keep teams like the Yankees - if you remember many years ago - from outspending every other team, something that's now maybe a little outdated. And the players are trying to raise the amount that teams can spend before they're penalized. And one of the other areas of focus is preventing tanking. They don't want to see teams intentionally lose, which is a strategy we've seen in a bunch of different sports because teams that lose are rewarded with draft picks. And draft picks are valuable. And so the players are trying to change that as well.

RASCOE: So it sounds like right now the two sides are pretty far apart. So, I mean, how long do you think this will go on?

DRELLICH: It is hard to predict, but this is something that hasn't happened in baseball in 25 years. There has not been a lockout or a strike in a quarter century. And there's something of a spiritual fight here where the players union in baseball was, for a very long time - and still is - considered to be the strongest in sports. The union in baseball had victories for years and years and years. The owners in recent years started to claw it back.

This is a turning point. If the owners successfully bat away the players here, it might be hard for the players the next time around to find enough resolve to fight here. And similarly, you know, if the players can newly assert themselves and establish that they are still indeed that union of such great strength, you know, that can change the tide of the future of the sport, too. So there's a lot on the line. And when you know there's a lot on the line, probably missing a few games in April isn't going to sway either side. So I think there's a very real possibility that regular season baseball games are missed this year.

RASCOE: Oh, wow. I'm sure some people don't want to hear that, but we will leave it there. Evan Drellich is a Major League Baseball correspondent for The Athletic. He joined us via Skype. Thank you.

DRELLICH: Thanks, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.