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Jeff Passanespan

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Major League Baseball and MLB Players Association officials met Tuesday for their first official bargaining session, just over six months before the sports collective bargaining agreement expires, sources told ESPN.

The long-awaited meeting between the parties was the first step in what many in the sport fear will be a contentious and protracted negotiation, with the possibility of a work stoppage after the current agreement expires on January 1. December. The relationship between the league and the players has become increasingly contentious in recent years, with both sides accusing each other of stabbing each other in the back after numerous failed attempts to reach an agreement.

The union and the trade union declined to comment on the talks.

At the same time, baseball has enjoyed unprecedented economic success amid a labor pause of more than a quarter century, and players and officials remain hopeful that differences between the parties can be ironed out during the next six months of negotiations. Both owners and players are aware that $10 billion a year can be seriously harmed by a labor dispute.

Dozens of people, including the players’ management, attended the meeting, which was held via video conference. This was the first negotiating session between the parties since the union rejected MLB’s offer of breaks and full-pay season cuts, including extended playoffs. Between those talks and the failure of negotiations on the resumption schedule for a postponed 2020 season, which led Commissioner Rob Manfred to introduce a 60-game season, distrust between the parties has grown and pessimism has set in about the chances of an agreement on the schedule that will prevail around the game.

Players’ negative feelings have been piling up since the last base contract at 1. December 2016 further strengthened the economics of the sport and tilted it in favor of teams. Players’ salaries have fallen for three consecutive seasons – and are expected to fall again in 2021. While the sport’s top players continue to collect huge sums – from the $300 million contracts of Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr, Francisco Lindor and Jerritt Cole to Trevor Bauer’s $40 million salary this year – the MLB’s middle class has seen their contracts shrink.

A revision of baseball’s basic economic system is highly unlikely, the sources said, referring to the limited time to reach an agreement and the fact that work has continued uninterrupted since 1995. Nevertheless, with the new agreement, the league intends to make spending and fairness in the league – in particular, the promotion of competition among all teams – one of its priorities. Players also favor giving players money earlier in their careers, the possibility of Free Agency before they reach six years of service, and a solution – or at least a remedy – for service tampering.

The MLB, whose attempts to tie an extended postseason to this season’s break were rejected by the league this spring, is expected to offer a wider field than the 10 teams that will compete in October. The league has also put a lot of time and effort into studying possible rule changes that would strengthen and speed up the pace of play – measures that can be considered at the bargaining table.

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