MLB didn’t just provide the MLBPA a new economic proposal today. It also filed some fighting words in the letter delivering its latest offer for a coronavirus-shortened campaign, as Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic report (subscription link).
Deputy MLB commissioner Dan Halem suggested the union has not acted in good faith in negotiations, hinting at the league’s possible stance if and when this matter ends up before an arbitrator. By Halem’s framing, labor is taking an obstructionist stance as the league provides what it labels a “final counterproposal” for a 72-game season.
That the sides are now exchanging angry letters, even as the clock ticks on squeezing in games, is to an extent merely confirmation of that underlying state of affairs. But there’s also a nod to a serious escalation lurking just beneath the surface. Halem hints less than subtly at a possible effort by the league to disrupt the sides’ late March agreement, claiming the union has “purposely failed to fulfill its obligations” and “deprived the Clubs the benefit of their bargain” in the contract.
No doubt the league already anticipated the likely outcome when it sent this shot across the bow. The union is expected to decline, and do so before the league’s appointed Sunday deadline, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter).
While the overall MLB salary offer has morphed in kind and crept up in value, the league’s bargaining posture remains the same as ever. The same holds true on the players’ side, where full pro rata pay has long been seen as a sine qua non.
The league begins from the premise that it can force a greatly truncated season with the players receiving pro rata pay for a third or less of a normal slate of games. Anything more? That’s gravy for the players, so they should be glad to get a marginal return for additional games played, particularly since the league is willing to dangle some added payment for an expanded postseason slate (should that prove possible). Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt laid this out rather forthrightly in his eyebrow-raising recent interview.
The players come from quite the opposite direction. By their view, the sides’ late-March agreement provided for pro rata pay for any games played. While that deal also contemplated the sides “discuss[ing] in good economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators,” the players don’t believe that disrupts the salary clause.
Given those radically different viewpoints, it’s not hard to see why this dispute seems to be so intractable. Indeed, Halem now asserts in the letter that the players have no initial right to pay in the first place. While many are playing under guaranteed contracts, Halem notes that the league could have suspended them upon the declaration of a national emergency. Of course, Manfred didn’t take that course. The late March agreement reportedly requires the commissioner to exercise good-faith efforts to stage as many games as possible, as Baseball America’s JJ Cooper notes on Twitter. And a players’ association source tells Rosenthal and Drellich that the league’s own attorneys acknowledged in letter correspondence that “players are not required to accept less than their full prorated salary.”
As we’ve pointed out here previously, it’s completely absurd that the sides remain entrenched in a disagreement over an agreement they signed in late March — one that was intended to deal with the COVID-19 shutdown. Perhaps that’s the best way to understand the acrimony and distrust: the sides evidently never really saw eye to eye even as they signed that agreement.