Just in case Major League Baseball owners were unable to see the line in the proverbial sand, Players Association chief Tony Clark drew it in ink Thursday night.
In a statement released after a conference call with the union’s executive board and more than 100 other players, Clark reaffirmed the players’ desire to return to the field but also their unwillingness to reopen a March 26 agreement that stipulates they will be paid prorated salaries based on the length of a pandemic-shortened season.
Clark also blasted the idea that MLB will use its authority under that March agreement to unilaterally implement a mini-season of approximately 50 games unless the players agree to further salary concessions, labeling it as a “threat.”
“Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well,” Clark said. “The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.”
If MLB was hoping that the notion of the mini-season would bring the players back to the virtual table with a willingness to suddenly negotiate on salary, well, it’s not happening. The players’ opposition is as much about principle, specifically not revising a deal that has already been agreed upon, as it is about actual dollars.
It seems, then, that the only way baseball will be played in 2020 is for commissioner Rob Manfred to go through with imposing a two-month season. And if he does, it’s doubtful the players’ union will sign off on expanding the postseason from 10 teams to 14 this year and next, a change that is strongly desired by the owners because of the significant portion of national TV money associated with the playoffs.
MLB hoped to reach agreement with the players this week to resume spring training by the middle of June and open an 82-game season by Fourth of July weekend. Both MLB and the union had made one economic proposal that didn’t address the issue most important to the other side.
In their proposal last Sunday, the players suggested a 114-game season at 100% of their prorated salaries, a non-starter to owners who claim they will lose money for every game that is played without fans. But Clark confirmed that the players also agreed to two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals if the 2020 postseason is canceled by another wave of the coronavirus, and other events and broadcast enhancements that the union believes will result in revenue for the owners.
MLB rejected that proposal Wednesday and didn’t schedule further negotiations, instead informing the union that it was moving forward with plans for a mini-season.
“We do not have any reason to believe that a negotiated solution for an 82-game season is possible,” deputy commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a letter Wednesday to chief union negotiator Bruce Meyer that was obtained by the Associated Press.
MLB’s economic proposal, which was made almost two weeks ago, involved sliding-scale supplemental pay cuts in an 82-game season that would reduce the overall pool for salaries to be reduced from roughly $2.25 billion based on terms of the March 26 agreement to $1.4 billion. If MLB implements a 50-game season at 100% of the prorated salaries, players would make a total of about $1.4 billion.