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MLB, players’ union meet for 1st CBA talks, sources say

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Leaders from Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association met Tuesday for their first official negotiating session a little more than six months before the sport’s collective bargaining agreement lapses, sources told ESPN.

The long-anticipated meeting between the sides marked the first foray into what many in the sport fear could be a contentious and protracted negotiation, with the possibility of a work stoppage upon the Dec. 1 expiration of the current deal. Relations between the league and players have grown combative in recent years, with both sides accusing the other of operating in bad faith amid multiple failed efforts to reach deals.

The league and union declined to comment on the discussions.

At the same time, baseball has found unprecedented economic success amid more than a quarter-century of labor peace, and players and officials likewise continue to express hope that the differences between the sides can be bridged during the next half-year of discussions. Owners and players both understand that the $10 billion-a-year industry could be gravely harmed by a labor dispute.

The meeting, held over videoconference, included dozens of people, including player leadership. It was the first negotiating session between the sides since the union turned down MLB’s offer for a paused-and-shortened season with full pay that included expanded playoffs. Between those discussions and the failed negotiations about when to resume the delayed season in 2020 that led to commissioner Rob Manfred implementing a 60-game season, mistrust between the sides deepened and fostered the pessimism about the chances of an on-time agreement that percolate around the game.

Negative feelings on the players’ side have festered since the last basic agreement was instituted Dec. 1, 2016, and further tilted the sport’s economics in favor of the teams. Player salaries have dropped for three consecutive seasons — and are expected to fall in 2021, too. While the best players in the sport continue to reap massive windfalls — from the $300 million-plus contracts of Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Francisco Lindor and Gerrit Cole to the $40 million salary this year for Trevor Bauer — MLB’s middle class has contracted significantly.

An overhaul of baseball’s core economic system is highly unlikely, sources said, citing the limited amount of time to strike a deal and keep labor peace uninterrupted since 1995. The union nevertheless intends to target spending and competitive integrity — particularly the promotion of competition by all teams — among its priorities with a new deal. Players are also in favor of funneling money to players earlier in their careers, the potential for free agency before six years of service and a solution to — or at least remedy of — service-time manipulation.

MLB, whose efforts to tie an expanded postseason to a pause this season were rebuffed by the union this spring, is expected to pursue a larger playoff field than the 10 teams that will participate this October. The league has also spent significant time and effort looking at potential rule changes that would help increase action in games and speed them up, measures that could be considered at the bargaining table.

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ESPN, MLB announce seven-year extension running through 2028

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ESPN and Major League Baseball announced a seven-year contract extension Thursday that will see the network carry 30 regular-season games per year plus wild-card games.

The deal, which runs through 2028, allows ESPN to show 25 weeks of Sunday Night Baseball and the MLB Little League Classic. It will also have an Opening Night game and the Home Run Derby around the All-Star Game. ESPN can show alternate versions of each game, such as the popular StatCast broadcasts on ESPN2. All telecasts will be exclusive.

ESPN currently shows one of two wild-card games. In 2022, if MLB expands to eight series, as it did in 2020, ESPN would carry the entire schedule of games. If the wild-card playoffs don’t expand, ESPN would get eight more regular-season games exclusively per year.

In addition, ESPN will be able to create new MLB content for ESPN+, including highlight-driven programming. There will continue to be a game nearly every day on ESPN+, subject to local blackout restrictions, and all games on ESPN or ABC can be simulcast on ESPN+.

ESPN Radio will continue to carry regular-season games and the full MLB postseason, including the World Series. The deal also includes increased highlight rights for studio content, including digital shows like BBTN Live, and Spanish-language rights for ESPN Deportes.

“ESPN’s longstanding relationship with Major League Baseball has been a driver of innovation for three decades,” James Pitaro, Chairman ESPN and Sports Content, said in a statement. “This agreement solidifies baseball’s ubiquitous presence across ESPN platforms, including ESPN+. The impactful collection of exclusive content, including Sunday Night Baseball which has served as the signature MLB series for more than 30 years, will be amplified by the surrounding rights we have to make these live events even bigger.”

“ESPN has been one of MLB’s longest and most important partners,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. “This extension continues the evolution of our relationship with a focus on utilizing ESPN’s extensive assets to shine a spotlight on key matchups throughout the year.”

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Milwaukee Brewers ace Corbin Burnes sets record for strikeouts without a walk to start season

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Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Corbin Burnes set the record for strikeouts without a walk to start the season Thursday, extending the record to 58 before issuing his first walk of the season in the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Burnes, 26, needed three strikeouts to pass the previous record of 51 strikeouts without a walk held by Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen, set in 2017. Burnes struck out Dylan Carlson in the first inning and then Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader in the second inning to set the record.

His strikeout total reached nine for the game through the fourth inning to set another major league record — strikeouts without a walk at any point in a season. He passed Greg Maddux (53) and Gerrit Cole and Curt Schilling (56 each) on that list. Schilling achieved the feat in 2002 and Cole’s streak is still active.

Burnes’ streaks ended, however, in the fifth inning when he walked the Cardinals’ Tommy Edman. Cole will have a chance to break Burnes’ record for most strikeouts without a walk at any point in a season in his next start for the New York Yankees.

Burnes is making his first start after testing positive for COVID-19. He was asymptomatic and said he kept in shape throwing outside his apartment complex and using cardio equipment.

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New York Yankees SS Gleyber Torres to miss second straight game, sources say

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres, who was held out of Wednesday night’s game out of “an abundance of caution,” will not play in Thursday’s series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, sources told ESPN.

The Yankees have confirmed seven cases of COVID-19 among their coaching and support staff, and manager Aaron Boone said the team was waiting for the MLB and MLB Players Association joint committee to review the results of Torres’ testing.

“Essentially, the joint committee is waiting, because we’ve had so many tests done, waiting on some test results to still come back,” Boone said before the Yankees’ 1-0 victory over the Rays on Wednesday. “With all that’s going on with our team, out of an abundance of caution, we’re holding him out tonight.”

Boone added: “I know everyone’s going to read into that, but hopefully it’s nothing. It’s more just getting all the information.”

The Yankees have said that pitching coach Matt Blake, third-base coach Phil Nevin and first-base coach Reggie Willits have tested positive for COVID-19.

Six of the seven people who have tested positive are asymptomatic, Boone said, adding that a number of test results were pending. All seven people who tested positive were vaccinated for COVID-19.

“I think one of the things we’re seeing is that being vaccinated en masse like we are, we’re seeing the vaccinations also kind of blunt the effects of the virus,” Boone said. “I feel like in a lot of ways, because we’re vaccinated, we’re kind of good and able to deal with this. So there’s a little bit of a frustrating part there, in all the testing that we’re going to do.”

All members of the Yankees’ traveling party have been tested at least three times each since Tuesday.

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