Can you hear it? Today is May 28. June begins Monday. For Major League Baseball to meet its goal of relaunching spring training in mid-June and opening the season by the Fourth of July, it must reach epidemiological and economic accords with the Players Association by this time next week.

Progress, on either front, is hard to find.

The players still have questions related to the frequency of testing outlined in MLB’s 67-page health and safety manual and the protocol for what happens if (when?) someone tests positive for COVID-19, according to a source. But the issue of supplemental reductions to players’ salaries might be even more difficult to solve.

“This season is not looking promising,” New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman tweeted earlier in the week.

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MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, left, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred are on opposite sides of a salary reduction fight that threatens to wipe out a 2020 season.
Associated Press
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, left, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred are on opposite sides of a salary reduction fight that threatens to wipe out a 2020 season.

No easy compromise in MLB vs. players salary fight

There weren’t any talks Wednesday between MLB and the Players Association. It was by design. Rather than rushing back to the virtual negotiating table, union leadership briefed the rank and file on details of the league’s “sliding-scale” economic proposal.

Still, the silence between the sides was deafening.

The players’ reaction to MLB’s plan for further salary reductions ranged from disappointment to anger. To some, the notion of taking a bigger slice out of the richest players’ checks while leaving the lowest-paid players’ prorated salaries largely untouched reeks of trying to divide the union. It was seemingly as objectionable as a one-year 50-50 revenue split, which the union views as tantamount to a salary cap.

Fundamentally, though, this is about deeply rooted distrust. The owners insist the prorated salaries agreed upon in a March 26 deal with the players are not sufficient to cover the losses they will incur from not having fans in the ballpark this year. The players dispute that and want the owners to offer proof by opening their books, as Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer tweeted last night.

“This is very messy,” said Vince Gennaro, associate dean at NYU’s Tisch Institute for Global Sport, who has previously consulted for major-league teams. “This is going to be a very tough thing to reconcile.”

The union is expected to make a counterproposal by week’s end, ESPN reported late last night. But if the players don’t move off their stance that the salary issue was resolved with the March 26 agreement and need not be reopened, what solution will they offer?

One idea is that the players will propose a longer season (at least 100 games). Without fans, though, more games isn’t necessarily appealing to the owners.

Another potential compromise that has been floated recently is a deferral system in which players help owners deal with lower revenues in 2020 by agreeing to additional salary cuts that would be paid back to them in future years either directly or through changes to the luxury-tax structure that would funnel additional money to the players.

But Gennaro doesn’t view that as a practical solution, especially because it likely will take baseball several years to recover from the economic damage created by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Deferred money ends up being debt,” Gennaro said. “It’s a liability on the balance sheet. It just adds to a franchise’s debt level, which is not something you want to do at a time like this. I don’t see deferral as being any kind of material savings for the owners. Maybe it eases the cash flow, but it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me.”

If the players insist on no additional cuts, Gennaro wondered if the owners would call off the season rather than deepen their losses just for the sake of playing in 2020.

Complicating matters are the looming negotiations of a new collective bargaining agreement. The present deal expires after the 2021 season, and neither side wants to make concessions now that they might regret later.

“I think there’s going to have to be significant concessions by the players to do this, but if they concede too much on this partial season, will that set the bar for future negotiations?” Gennaro said. "It’s a very volatile situation right now, and I think it needs to be handled delicately.

“There’s so many complicating factors. It’s a bit mind-boggling to sort through it all. [Commissioner] Rob [Manfred] proclaims confidence every time we hear him speak about how this is going to get done. I wouldn’t count this as a sure thing that we’re going to see baseball this year.”

The rundown

Go ahead and label the millionaire players as greedy, but can we talk about the billionaire owners? Bob Brookover weighs in on the money squabble.

If spring training does resume, the Phillies most likely would stay local rather than returning to Clearwater, Fla. They would work out at Citizens Bank Park and facilities across the street at FDR Park.

Ten years ago tomorrow, Roy Halladay threw the 20th perfect game in major-league history. I caught up with a dozen or so people who were there and collected their memories, from the build-up through the watches that Doc gave them as gifts. Also, Brooky on a new book and documentary that showed the very imperfect side of Halladay’s life.

Dickie Noles changed the 1980 World Series with one pitch, then went to work on changing his life, as Matt Breen writes in this terrific piece.

Remember Darin Ruf? The former Phillies first baseman/left fielder kept his career alive in South Korea for three years and was poised to open this season with the San Francisco Giants, Brooky writes.

Nice story about former Phillies outfielder and hitting coach Milt Thompson, who is working with graduating high school seniors who didn’t get to play baseball this spring, Marc Narducci writes.

Important dates

Tomorrow: In 1989, Mike Schmidt announced his retirement, effective immediately.

Saturday: Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler turns 30.

June 2: In 2008, Chase Utley tied a club record by homering in a fifth straight game.

June 4: Happy 27th birthday, Aaron Nola.

June 10-11: A live baseball event! Phillies have the 15th overall pick in 2020 draft.

Third baseman Alec Bohm poses with commissioner Rob Manfred after being drafted by the Phillies with the third overall pick in 2018.
Third baseman Alec Bohm poses with commissioner Rob Manfred after being drafted by the Phillies with the third overall pick in 2018.

Stat of the day

An abbreviated schedule would hardly be ideal. But if the last two seasons had ended after only 82 games, the Phillies would have liked the outcome.

Last year, the Sons of Gabe Kapler were 43-39, tied with Colorado and Milwaukee for a wild-card berth. The Phillies were sitting even prettier in 2018. At 45-37, they were only three games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves and in possession of the second wild-card spot, 1 1/2 games ahead of the eventual NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: When (or if) a World Series champion is crowned, will the winner of a shortened season be a true champion or forever be saddled with an *? Thanks for all the great coverage.

--Mark F., via email

Answer: Thank you, Mark, for following along with us and posing a really good question. I guess it ultimately comes down to how you define “true champion.”

In 1981, a 50-day strike in the middle of the season wiped out 38% of the schedule and split the standings into halves. For one year only (until 1995), the postseason featured an additional round. Yet nobody regards the Dodgers’ title as illegitimate. Asterisks aren’t affixed to their World Series rings.

There’s no doubt that this season would be unlike anything we have ever seen. But it would also be the best baseball can do. So, yes, under these unprecedented conditions, I believe the World Series winner would be recognized as such. We will have to explain to our children’s children why only 82 games were played, but that will all be baked into the 2020 baseball narrative.