Typically the final days of January are when baseball players start revving up for the year ahead. They would be locking down leases for spring training rentals, hitting their final workouts hard, maybe sneaking in one last tweak to a swing or pitching motion.

“You want get out there Feb. 1, start getting to work with your guys and your coaches, you feel like baseball season's coming and you're fired up,” said Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Ross Stripling. “That's what our bodies are telling us right now.”

Major League Baseball’s lockout of its players, sadly, is delivering a far different message. Not only with the beginning of spring training in a couple of weeks under threat but perhaps also the beginning of the regular season as well.

The MLB Players Association made a significant move during negotiations this week by dropping the demand for a quicker route to free agency and lowering the cut sought in a proposed adjustment to revenue sharing, according to sources. In response, owners withdrew their attempt to limit salary arbitration and accepted the union’s framework on a bonus pool for pre-arbitration eligible players, although there’s a big gap in how much money would be available.

There’s even wider separation on more significant issues – the Competitive Balance Tax, or CBT, minimum salaries, expanded playoffs, to name a few – which is why the clock is very much ticking. The sides planned to talk Friday although another economic proposal wasn’t expected.

“We just need to get the ball rolling. These days are so crucial,” says Stripling, who receives regular updates on negotiations as the Blue Jays’ players-union representative. “We knew the owners would use time against us. The closer you get us to spring training, the more frustrated we're going to get. We're used to not getting paycheques in these months, but now you're talking about maybe taking a second pay cut in three years. We've had to sit back on our side and think, what are we willing to miss time over?

“We’re at that precipice now where it’s like, OK, we are likely to miss games. So let’s dig our feet in and get ready for a fight to make this happen and make the game better,” he continues. “I hope that we can start making some real progress because we want to start on time and play on time. We know what we're fighting for and we know that some things need to change. It’s frustrating for a lot of guys because there’s not a lot of information coming down that's positive.”

To that end, the message Stripling keeps delivering to his teammates through the group chat in which he shares updates is to keep preparing as if everything is going to start as usual, and adjust from there as needed.

The 32-year-old right-hander is running through his typical routine at home in Houston, working out daily with teammates George Springer, Cavan Biggio and other big-leaguers at a local facility, and throwing bullpens at Rice University. If players are still locked out in two-to-three weeks, there are loose plans for live batting practice with Springer, Biggio, Anthony Rendon, Robbie Grossman and Tyler Naquin, akin to a typical spring progression.

Players have prepared for seasons under less than ideal circumstances the past two years, as Summer Camp following the 2020 pandemic shutdown and spring training last year both forced hasty build-ups.