Major League Baseball made its initial presentation for a shortened 2020 season to the Players Association on Tuesday, as expected, with officials from both sides meeting via video conference.
In its opening pitch, the league reportedly put health before wealth.
Although MLB and the union must settle the knotty problem of player compensation before an agreement can be reached, the first negotiating session pertained mostly to concerns over the health and safety of players and essential staff in returning to work while the country struggles to contain COVID-19, according to the New York Post.
MLB’s plan reportedly calls for teams to open an 82-game schedule in early July against division and regional opponents and to play in fan-free ballparks in as many of the league’s 30 markets as possible. Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle has publicly raised questions on many players’ minds, specifically about the frequency and availability of testing, modifications to clubhouses to prevent the spread of the virus, and additional health-care benefits for players, staff and other essential workers who will be asked to return to work in the midst of a pandemic.
It’s believed that league officials attempted to address those concerns by outlining a plan. A formal proposal wasn’t made.
Even without fans in attendance, MLB would need clearance from municipalities to hold large gatherings. Between two 30-man rosters, coaching staffs, athletic trainers, equipment staff and other essential game-day personnel, a game likely would require more than 100 people.
There’s also the question of the availability of testing supplies. Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chairman of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said last week that he believes players would need to get tested on a weekly basis.
Emanuel also suggested that it would be more realistic for a sports league to reopen in a quarantined environment. But MLB has moved away from its concept of isolating all 30 teams in Arizona and playing games at Chase Field in Phoenix and a dozen nearby spring-training ballparks, an idea that was met with resistance from players who didn't want to leave their families during a pandemic.
“If you could do it out of the box in a bubble and you could do it safely, people are going to then be more comfortable taking the next step and the next step and the next step,” Emanuel said by phone. “It’s like an entire opening up of the economy. You can’t do it right away. You have to do each step. This is a process — go to step one, step two, step three. That’s why I think starting out with maybe more severe restrictions than all of us are keen on is probably going to be necessary and then you can dial back.”
MLB’s presentation did address economic issues, according to the New York Post, but specific conversations about a revenue-sharing system for determining player salaries wasn’t broached. Players are strongly opposed to that arrangement, according to multiple reports, because they view it as akin to a salary cap. Unlike the NFL and the NBA, MLB has never had a salary-cap system.
The players also believe they settled the compensation issue in a March 26 agreement with the owners that stipulated they will receive prorated salaries based on the number of games played in 2020. The owners contend that the March 26 agreement included stipulations that it could be redrawn. MLB has indicated that roughly 40% of teams’ revenues last season came from ticket sales, luxury suites, parking, concessions and other fan-related streams.
Negotiations are expected to continue over the next few weeks. If MLB will meet its goal of restarting spring training by early June, the sides have about three weeks to reach an agreement and gain the necessary approval from federal, state and local governments.