As Major League Baseball ponders various scenarios in which the 2020 season could commence in empty parks without fans in attendance, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic write that empty-stadium games could prompt ownership to ask that the players make further concessions in terms of their 2020 salary.
The two sides already reached an agreement on service time, player salaries and a broad framework for an abbreviated draft late last month. Within that agreement, players agreed to prorated salaries that are directly proportional to the reduction of total games played.
Rosenthal and Drellich suggest, however, that the league “made it clear to the union that economic adjustments would be necessary if games were played in empty parks,” while many on the players’ side of talks believe that the already standing agreement addressed games without fan and/or games at neutral sites. Unsurprisingly, agent Scott Boras ardently pointed to the preexisting “good faith agreement” regarding empty-stadium play while implying that seeking further reductions would be in violation of said good faith.
It seems rather perplexing that the players wouldn’t have pursued precise language expressly underscoring that even neutral-site games without fans in attendance should fall under the purview of the currently agreed-upon salary reduction parameters. That agreement, after all, was unanimously ratified by all 30 owners back on March 27. At that point, the idea of televising games without fans was already widely being speculated upon and surely being discussed by the league and MLBPA. Word of the potential “Arizona” plan trickled out not two weeks after that agreement had been settled.
The owners’ claim in all of this would undoubtedly be that addition of television revenue would not be enough to cover the cost of operations in conjunction with the elimination of gate revenue. Such claims wouldn’t be able to be proven with books closed to the public, but it’s easy to see all 30 owners aligning on that front whether or not the sentiment holds true in actuality.
At this point, all parties involved are flying blind for the most part, as there’s not yet any certainty regarding when or if play will resume, where games will take place or how many games could be played. There’s also been talk of expanding the postseason format, which would create additional revenue on all sides that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Without those details set in place, fiscal specifics are impossible to glean. All of those issues will factor into further negotiations — if it is indeed determined that the existing language leaves ownership ample latitude to pursue such reductions. It’s easy to imagine a contentious set of secondary negotiations eventually being necessary once the logistics can be more clearly defined, though.
At least as pertains to the 2020 season, commissioner Rob Manfred wields the ultimate hammer, as his position gives him the right to unilaterally suspend player contracts due to the declaration of a national emergency. While one would hope that negotiations wouldn’t get to that point, the threat of such extreme action could indeed be powerful leverage against the MLBPA.
All of this comes at a time when the current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in December 2021. Advance collective bargaining talks were already reported to be in place well before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Any rising tensions that stem from further back-and-forth on more immediate issues figure to impact those CBA negotiations whenever they resume in earnest.