Even as the clock ticked down toward the midnight expiration of Major League Baseball's labor agreement and a potential work stoppage, MLB had yet to schedule a lockout vote by owners, sources told ESPN late Wednesday afternoon.
While that was viewed by people around the sport as another hopeful sign of progress toward a new labor deal, sources said owners have been told by MLB to be on alert Wednesday night, in case there's a need for an emergency vote either to ratify an agreement or to lock out the players if negotiations collapse.
Meanwhile, the two sides continued to talk and, by Wednesday afternoon, had been negotiating almost continuously for more than 24 hours, on little or no sleep. Multiple sources continue to report they have made significant progress, but had yet to reach agreement on what appeared to be the last remaining major issue of disagreement: how a revised competitive balance tax (a.k.a., luxury tax) would function.
Sources said the two sides have discussed significant changes to the tax, which has been assessed for more than a decade on teams that go over a negotiated payroll threshold. However, the players have balked at proposals they viewed as acting like a de facto salary cap by imposing penalties so stiff on big spenders that no team would opt to exceed the threshold.
USA Today reported Tuesday that owners wanted to keep the threshold at $189 million in the first year of the agreement, which would mark the fourth consecutive season at that figure. Under the owners' proposal, the threshold then would increase incrementally in future years.
Players have asked for an immediate increase that reflects the sport's steep rise in revenues over the last several years. The sides also have differed on tax rates, and potential other penalties, for teams that exceed the threshold several years in a row or exceed it by many millions of dollars.
However, if the sides can reach agreement on how the tax would work, it's believed that a number of other changes would then fall into place. Other provisions of the new agreement would be expected to include:
Teams that sign a premium free agent would no longer have to give up a draft pick to the team that lost that player. It is expected that teams losing those players still would receive a pick, however.
Although owners pushed for months to include international players in the amateur draft, they dropped that demand this week, sources said. In its place, teams would work under a revised system of bonus pools that are expected to place hard limits on how much each club can spend to sign foreign-born players.
Roster size would increase from 25 players to 26 through the end of August, then would jump to either 28 or 29 players from Sept. 1 on, instead of the current 40.
The sides have talked about starting future seasons four or five days earlier than in the past as a means to give teams more days off during the regular season. The sides also have discussed scheduling more day games when teams face long flights following those games.
There would be changes to baseball's revenue-sharing formula which would affect both payers and recipients. Details of those changes remain unknown.
The sides have discussed numerous changes to the June amateur draft. Those changes could include everything from a revamped slotting system to trading picks. Details have yet to emerge.
It is expected that tougher penalties would be imposed on players who violate baseball's joint drug agreement. A number of players have spoken publicly about the need for longer suspensions for those who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Changes also are likely in baseball's domestic-violence policy. Details have yet to emerge.
The sides have discussed the possibility of playing games outside North America during the regular season in future seasons. It isn't known yet exactly where those games would be scheduled, but commissioner Rob Manfred has said publicly he would like to see regular-season games played in London.
The agreement also would address numerous other issues, from service-time rules to expansion, from replay to pace of game, from meal money to ways to discourage tanking. However, it might be as much as several weeks until all of those changes will be known publicly.