5:21pm: Two team executives, Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams and Brewers president of baseball ops David Stearns, expressed optimism Wednesday that the owners and players will hammer something out. Williams told Jim Day of Fox Sports Ohio that “both sides want to play,” interestingly adding that he believes an agreement’s “very close” (via C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic). Stearns said, “I firmly believe we are going to have baseball this season” (per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
3:43pm: The two sides are seeing eye to eye on expanded playoffs and the universal DH, Jon Heyman of MLB Network tweets. They’re also “close to agreeing on the all-important health protocols,” Heyman writes, but season length could still stand in the way of a deal.
2:45pm: One possible point of leverage for the MLBPA, per Rosenthal and Drellich (subscription required), is that the March agreement offers rather concrete language indicating that MLB cannot simply impose an expanded postseason format without agreement from the union. A May report from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale suggested that expanding the postseason to the oft-floated 14-team setup would increase projected television revenue from $777MM to roughly $1 billion.
Meanwhile, The Athletic’s Jayson Stark tweets that he’s heard some talk of pushing the potential start date back from the July 4 weekend to July 15, as the league and union continue their interminable staredown.
1:00pm: The latest, widely expected step in the exhausting back-and-forth between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association became official today, as the league has formally rejected the union’s proposal for a 114-game season with prorated salaries, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets. Moreover, the league has no plans to even extend a counter-proposal. The commissioner’s office has begun speaking with owners about implementing a shortened season, Rosenthal adds, and hopes to have similar talks with the union (rather than a negotiation regarding season length).
Owners contend that ommissioner Rob Manfred can seek to unilaterally impose a shortened season if the union won’t budge from its prorated salary demands, and it appears that’s where they’re leaning, per the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Either a 48- to 54-game season with fully prorated salaries or an 82-game season at less than prorated salaries are under consideration.
The union can still push back on that, however; Rosenthal and Drellich wrote over the weekend that the MLBPA could point to a clause in the March agreement which states the league will make its “best efforts to play as many games as possible” as a point of contention against a league-implemented short schedule. Union chief Tony Clark could conceivably point to his side’s 114-game proposal as an effort to honor that language while contending that the league simply has not done so. As for any chances of the MLBPA accepting a 48- or 54-game season, those seem minuscule. The union wasn’t pleased with an 82-game schedule; nearly halving that hardly seems like a palatable alternative. Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets that one player described those proposed lengths to him as a “joke” and “absurd.”
All of this aligns with an ominous sentiment tweeted by SNY’s Andy Martino this morning, wherein he reported that there “has not been much dialogue” between the league and the players union. Sherman adds to that, noting that he’s “heard greater pessimism today” from both sides than at any point since these negotiation began.
There’s a bit more optimism on the health and safety guidelines, it seems; Martino writes in a full column that the two sides have made progress and believe an agreement can be reached. Might some productive talks in another area finally help facilitate a breakthrough in terms of player salary? Some speculate that to be the case, but it’s hard to be overly optimistic when neither side appears willing to give an inch.
The next chapter in this interminable saga unfolds against the backdrop of the NBA’s impending vote on its own return-to-play scenario. A vote to ratify that plan will come tomorrow and would bring basketball back on July 31. MLB seemed to have the opportunity to come back in early July and be the first major sport to give starved fans across North America some of the entertainment they’ve desperately craved. On the surface, doing so seemed like an opportunity to perhaps broaden the sport’s fanbase by attracting new fans (or luring old ones back into the fold) as the only game in town, so to speak. Instead, there’s increased doubt as to whether a season will be played at all.
At this point, the “good faith” negotiations that were oft-referenced in the March agreement are a distant memory. Both sides have issued proposals they knew to be nonstarters — twice, in the league’s case, although the revenue-sharing plan was a strategic leak rather than a formal proposal. Now, ownership appears intent on driving home the point that play will only resume under its terms.