Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are making a “last-minute attempt at haggling” in hopes of reaching an agreement on a deal regarding the 2020 season, tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney. It seems the last-ditch effort to find a common ground is the reason that the MLBPA has twice delayed its scheduled meeting to vote on MLB’s 60-game proposal.
If the two sides aren’t able to reach a compromise, commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to implement a season at a length of the league’s choosing. Doing so would ensure the players their prorated salaries for the duration of the 2020 season and would not include the expanded playoffs which the union has offered to ownership. Barring an agreement between the two sides, we’re down to the “last hours” before Manfred implements a season length, per Olney.
Throughout this process, both parties have maintained that they hope to reach a deal rather than have a season set by Manfred under the preexisting March agreement. Players are hopeful of reaching a negotiated agreement because doing so would result in playing more games at their prorated salary levels. Ownership wants a negotiated deal because that’s the only means of achieving the significant playoff expansion (and thus postseason revenue) in 2020-21. The March agreement indicates that players would need to sign off on postseason expansion.
To this point, onlookers are plenty aware that neither side has been willing to come down off its key points. The union is insisting on prorated salary, and the league is staunchly against pushing regular-season play beyond Sept. 27 and — as of last week — opposed to playing any more than 60 games at prorated levels of pay.
The exact points that the two sides are discussing aren’t clear, although Joel Sherman of the New York Post provides a bit of insight (all Twitter links). The league has told the union that it can only offer forgiveness on the standing $170MM advance to players on split contracts (a total of about $33MM that would effectively only be paid to the game’s lowest-paid players) and that no money would be added to the players’ share of the 2020-21 playoff pool. If fewer than 50 games are played, though, the league would strike the agreements on expanded playoffs and a universal DH in 2021.
Whatever the specifics, it doesn’t appear that length of schedule is among the points of negotiation at this juncture. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that the two sides are trying to work out an agreement on a 60-game season and that failing a negotiated agreement, Manfred will implement a season of 54 to 60 games.
Notably, ESPN’s Ben Cafardo tweets that Manfred is expected to speak on television soon. That certainly suggests that a resolution could finally be nigh — whether it’s Manfred announcing a deal with the union or simply announcing that he has implemented a season length under the March agreement.
We still don’t have a sense for how the league plans to address additional COVID-19 outbreaks within the sport, which we saw last week when 40 players and staff members tested positive (including eight in one organization). If a season length is at long last settled upon today — one way or another — the two sides they can pivot their full attention to that critical component of return-to-play talks.