Major League Baseball is preparing yet another counter-offer to the Players Association after the MLBPA proposed an 89-game season with prorated salaries yesterday, commissioner Rob Manfred said minutes ago in an appearance on MLB Network (hat tip: Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times, on Twitter). More encouragingly, Manfred emphatically stated: “We’re going to play baseball in 2020 — 100 percent.” The commissioner’s preference remains for a negotiated agreement between the league and union, but Manfred does have the ability to implement a shorter season (at fully prorated salaries) under the standing March agreement.
The details of the forthcoming proposal will be telling. Manfred acknowledged that it’ll be in the “players’ direction” but also suggested that he hopes the union will back down from its insistence on prorated pay. That has been the crux of the players’ entire argument to this point, and it has not seemed likely at all that they’ll be swayed. If anything, recent brazen comments from Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and D-backs owner Ken Kendrick about the lack of profitability in baseball and the need for revenue sharing have only caused the players to further dig in. Many big leaguers — Justin Turner, Jameson Taillon, Randal Grichuk among them — met DeWitt’s comment that the baseball industry “isn’t very profitable, to be honest,” with bewilderment and disbelief.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported earlier today, citing three MLB executives, that a counter-proposal was indeed in the works. Yesterday’s union proposal did contain some concessions that should appeal to ownership, but the MLBPA has steadfastly insisted that the prorated salaries which they feel were agreed upon back in March remain in place. That and the 89-game length of the proposal remain too costly in the eyes of ownership.
Nightengale suggests that Manfred will implement a season length of around 50 games if an agreement isn’t in place by next week. Of course, we’ve seen both sides negotiate through the media with a series of strategically leaked bluffs and half-truths, so it’s anyone’s guess whether ownership actually plans to wield that hammer or if this, paired with Manfred’s strong comments, is yet another leverage play. Remember, after all, that the league sent a counter-proposal to the MLBPA on Monday — just days after putting out the message that no counter was coming.
Regardless, it’s true that the clock is ticking for some kind of decision to be made. Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic wrote this morning that the time for “best and final” offers from both parties is nigh. Separately, Rosenthal suggests that the league should propose a 72-game season with prorated salaries and several of the new elements put forth by the union yesterday (e.g. two years of expanded 16-team playoffs, increased instances of players being mic’d up during broadcasts, an offseason All-Star Game/Home Run Derby this winter, etc.). To this point, neither side has made a proposal that has even moved the needle for the other.