5:22pm: The league and the union have continued to battle this week in the form of letters, per Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic. Halem sent one to the union Wednesday explaining why the league’s not on board with its 114-game proposal, saying that “we do not have any reason to believe that a negotiated solution for an 82-game season is possible” and detailing why extending the regular campaign into October isn’t feasible from the league’s perspective. As of now, the league’s also unwilling to give service time to a player who opts out of a potential season for health and safety reasons.
MLBPA negotiator Bruce Meyer responded that he’s not sure MLB even wants a season to take place. “We are happy to hear that ‘the Commissioner is committed to playing Baseball in 2020,’” Meyer wrote, “since MLB’s course of conduct continues to lead to doubts.” The union also called MLB’s unwillingness to play into October “wholly unjustified.”
For now, MLB seems inclined to pursue a schedule of 50-some games, but that would also displease the union. Furthermore, the two sides haven’t even finalized health and safety protocols in the event a season does happen, though Meyer wrote, “We will be available at your convenience to continue those discussions, including over the weekend.”
10:26am: Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association remain at odds over both the length of a would-be 2020 season and the manner in which players would be compensated in a shortened schedule. Both sides have their own brand of mathematical gymnastics to show how much revenue would (or wouldn’t) be lost, and neither side has been inclined to budge whatsoever to this point. To recap — an abbreviated timeline of how this has played out:
- March 26: MLB and the MLBPA “agree” to conditions for return to play; players will receive prorated salaries if a season is played or a $170MM advance payout divided among all players if the season is canceled. Players will accrue the same service time they did in 2019 even if no season is played.
- April 16: Initial reports surface that ownership will seek further pay cuts from players due to a lack of gate revenue. The league points to a clause in the March agreement stipulating the two sides will “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators.” The union contends prorated salaries were agreed upon with or without fans in attendance.
- May 11: After nearly a month, ownership finalizes an economic proposal that includes a revenue share with the union. Before it is even formally proposed to the MLBPA, union chief Tony Clark wholly dismisses the proposal, likening it to a salary cap.
- May 26: After another two weeks of calculated leaks from both sides and public back-and-forth, ownership presents a “sliding scale” for further pay reductions that amounts to a mean 38 percent cut on top of prorated salaries (lesser percentages for lower-paid players but greater cuts for higher-paid stars). The season would consist of 82 games.
- May 31: The union counters with a proposal for 114 games and prorated salaries.
- June 3: MLB rejects the MLBPA’s proposal and indicates it will not offer a counter-proposal. Instead, commissioner Rob Manfred and the league’s owners begin discussions on an even shorter season — reportedly 48 to 54 games — at prorated rates.
Now, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the league is focusing in on a 48-game season. Fans and players alike recoil at the notion of such a truncated season, but the Associated Press yesterday obtained an email from deputy commissioner Dan Halem to the union in which Halem wrote: “You confirmed for us on Sunday that players are unified in their view that they will not accept less than 100% of their prorated salaries, and we have no choice but to accept that representation.”
The dramatically shortened schedule being discussed by the league is a reflection of the losses they’re willing to accept. The extent of those losses remains a point of contention, as the league has not yet provided the MLBPA with what it terms to be sufficient evidence to substantiate their claims.
Nonetheless, Passan takes a look at the numbers both sides have put forth. If the league is willing to play prorated salaries on a 48-game schedule and the union is indeed accepting an 82-game season at a prorated level, then the difference amounts to 34 games’ worth of prorated pay. Even accepting the figures ownership has floated at face value, the dispute — at least viewed through this lens — boils down to about $326MM in total, Passan surmises.
Ownership might look to spin the number to be greater, just as the union might look to cast doubt upon the fact that the losses are even that sizable. Regardless, if the players will indeed accept an 82-game season and prorated pay, the dispute comes down to roughly one month’s worth of games. On the surface, that appears like it should be a surmountable obstacle, but of course neither side has been particularly enthusiastic about compromise in any capacity.
Still, SNY’s Andy Martino writes that at least one person involved in the talks believes the outcome will indeed be a compromise: something in the vicinity of 65 to 80 games with slightly less than prorated salaries and temporary suspensions of the luxury tax and qualifying offer systems.
That sounds amenable to onlookers, though the involved parties surely view things differently. FiveThirtyEight’s Travis Sawchik examines why the players may be so reluctant to agree to further cuts, noting that the oft-cited “millionaires vs. billionaires” characterization of the public squabble isn’t necessarily reflective of the average big leaguer. Nearly two thirds of the league last year had not yet reached three years of MLB service time in 2019, meaning most had yet to even secure their first million-dollar contract. Add in their tax bracket, union dues and agent fees, and the actual amount that players take home off their pre-arb salaries is indeed probably lesser than most would assume from the outside looking in. It’s worth pointing out, of course, that ownership could push back with similar means of demonstrating that their revenues are less than most would assume.
Taking a step back from the finer details, it’s rather remarkable to look at the above timeline, realize that it spans more than two months, and think that the two sides are still, in essence, diametrically opposed without any real willingness to compromise to get a product back on the field. The NHL and NBA have approved plans for a return to play, but the distrust between MLB and the MLBPA with collective bargaining talks looming in 2021 continues to stand in the way of a suitable compromise.