As talks continue about the possibility of the 2020 season getting underway, “the greatest differences between the players and owners, for now, remain economic,” Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic (subscription required) write in their latest update on the status of the negotiations. While nothing concrete has been established between the two sides, June 1 is seen as “an informal deadline for negotiations to be completed if the season is to start by early July.”
On Tuesday, the league will present the MLB Players Association with a proposal for how finances and revenues will be divvied up over a shortened 2020 schedule. Rosenthal and Drellich hear from sources that the owners’ reported original desire for a 50/50 revenue split will not be included in this proposal, though owners will still seek to reduce player salaries in some fashion, as per Major League Baseball’s claim that paying prorated player salaries while still hosting games without any fans in attendance would result in a loss of over $4 billion in free cash flow.
That $4 billion figure was delivered as part of a financial document presented to the MLBPA over a week ago, which naturally resulted in the union requesting for the league to back up this claim with more paperwork and documentation. According to Rosenthal and Drellich, the league provided the players with some but not all of the requested information this past Friday. It isn’t clear whether the documentation provided will be sufficient for the MLBPA, or whether there is enough time for the union’s analysts to properly access the league’s financial claims by the informal June 1 deadline.
At least one agent, Seth Levinson of the ACES agency, believes “there isn’t sufficient time,” and that “MLB doesn’t just seek further salary reductions from the players but also their blind faith” that the losses will be as steep as the league suggests. Levinson also added that “any agreement must protect the players heading into 2021,” as several agents are concerned that the loss of 2020 revenues will result in a crunch for free agents and arbitration-eligible players in the 2020-21 offseason. To this end, Rosenthal and Drellich write that some agents might prefer some manner of “financial protection for players this offseason” in exchange for players agreeing to accept less than their prorated salaries for 2020 games.
These longer-term issues add another layer of difficult to the talks between Major League Baseball and the players’ union. The majority of current negotiations are centered around the 2020 season first and foremost, and there are already enough logistical hurdles (both financial and health/safety related) yet to be cleared that it seems difficult at first glance to imagine an agreement being reached by June 1. That said, the June 1 date only applies to the rumored early-July start date for an 82-game season, so everything could be pushed back or reduced. The length of the regular season, Rosenthal and Drellich note, is another possible negotiating point between players and owners: “The league also prefers a shorter schedule to enhance the chances of playing the postseason, when greater revenues are assured.”