7:49pm: There’s no end in sight to this standoff. After an MLBPA board meeting on Thursday, union head Tony Clark said, “The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected” (full statement here via Jeff Passan of ESPN.com). The players want to return to the field, but they’re simply not open to another pay cut, as Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller told Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link). “Players are engaged like I’ve never seen before,” Miller said. “Every day through ths each of those factors is reinforced. We hope to be on the field as soon as possible.”
6:39pm: As the deadlock between the league and the Players Association continues, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that the 30 team owners are remaining “steadfast” in aiming to end the season by Nov. 1. Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick already firmly voiced earlier this week his stance that ownership’s model of not playing games in November “will never be changed.”
Twins president, CEO and executive board member Dave St. Peter offered a similar sentiment in a lighter tone than Kendrick, telling La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Getting derailed on the start/stop scenario is the worst-case scenario. You’re trying to thread a needle in getting a baseball season in before a second surge of this virus which we believe is a very real possibility.”
Never one to hold back his thoughts, agent Scott Boras again pushed back on ownership’s public-facing stance, telling The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal: “The NFL and college football – contact sports – could be playing in November, let alone December. MLB, a social distancing sport, says it can’t play playoffs in November.”
It’s possible to push back on baseball being a “social distancing sport” in a general sense — there are close quarters the dugout, clubhouse, on the bases, etc. — but relative to a sport like football, the point obviously holds true. As St. Peter and Kendrick have alluded to, however, the worst-case scenario for the league might be paying the players a prorated salary (or even a reduced rate) and then having to cancel postseason play. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale has previously reported that the standard-format postseason television revenue could approach $777MM, with an expanded format pushing that number closer to $1 billion.
Furthermore, as Reds righty Trevor Bauer and his agent, Rachel Luba, discussed earlier this spring in a detailed YouTube video, player postseason shares are derived from gate — not television revenue. In other words, those TV dollars are pure profit for the owners. Perhaps there’s additional negotiation to be done there, but if the two sides have yet to even agree on regular-season player compensation absent gate revenue, it’s unlikely they’ve sufficiently addressed postseason shares. The sheer volume of revenue owners would stand to receive from carrying out a postseason — be it expanded or not — gives enormous incentive to strike a deal at some point, but both the length of schedule and the timeframe within which it falls remain major obstacles.
All of that seems to dovetail with the league’s newfound push for a shortened schedule. It was reported over the weekend that the owners feel the standing March agreement gives commissioner Rob Manfred the power to unilaterally impose a shorter length of season. Doing so would likely entitle the players to prorated salary but over a fraction of the would-be regular season; the New York Post’s Joel Sherman suggested as few as 48 to 54 games may even be under consideration.
That push would limit the owners’ in-season expenses while bringing about a notable postseason windfall. To that end, Ronald Blum of the Associated Press obtained an email sent from deputy commissioner Dan Halem to MLBPA negotiator Bruce Meyer which expressly confirms that the league is looking into a commissioner-imposed, shortened season. A portion of said email read as follows:
We do not have any reason to believe that a negotiated solution for an 82-game season is possible. 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. Nonetheless, the commissioner is committed to playing baseball in 2020. He has started discussions with ownership about staging a shorter season without fans.
However, Blum notes that the league is strongly opposed to deferring salaries, with interest, likening that to another means of accruing debt. Halem also expressed concerns about the costs of acquiring mass testing capabilities, suggesting that’d cost teams upward of $50MM.
As has been the case for months now, it’s readily apparent that both sides have considerable motivation to finalize some type of agreement on how to salvage the 2020 season. Actually moving closer to finding a common ground, however, has proven virtually impossible — even as other sports have found ways to chart a path back to their seasons.