NEW YORK (AP) — Locked out players rejected Major League Baseball’s request for a federal mediator to enter stalled labor negotiations, a move that pretty much eliminated any chance for an on-time start to spring training and increased the work stoppage’s threat to opening day.

One day after MLB asked for help from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the Major League Baseball Players Association on Friday ruled out a third party trying to assist the fractured sport’s warring factions.

“Two months after implementing their lockout, and just two days after committing to players that a counterproposal would be made, the owners refused to make a counter, and instead requested mediation,” the union said in a statement.

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“After consultation with our executive board, and taking into account a variety of factors, we have declined this request. The clearest path to a fair and timely agreement is to get back to the table. Players stand ready to negotiate.”

Owners locked out players on Dec. 2, immediately following the expiration of a five-year collective bargaining agreement. There have been just three negotiating sessions on core economics since, on Jan. 24-25 and this past Tuesday, and the sides are still far apart.

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