Squint hard enough and it appears to be a small step in the right direction.
Alas, a giant leap is still what's required.
One day after fielding Major League Baseball’s latest economic pitch for a pandemic-shortened season, the Players Association responded with an 89-game proposal at 100% of the prorated salaries to which they agreed in March, a source confirmed Tuesday night.
The players’ new plan is 25 games fewer than its previous one and 13 games more than the proposal made Monday by MLB. It also includes a provision for expanding the playoffs in 2020 and 2021 from 10 teams to 16 (eight per league), an arrangement the owners have pushed for strongly.
But -- and stop us if you've heard this before -- the players' proposal is almost certain to be rejected by MLB.
For one thing, it calls for the regular season to begin July 11 and end Oct. 11, one day before a potential Game 7 of the rescheduled NBA Finals. MLB is steadfast about ending the regular season in late September and keeping the playoffs contained to October because of concerns about a second wave of the coronavirus.
For another, the players remain adamant about not reopening a March 26 agreement that stipulates they get paid a prorated portion of their salaries based on the length of the season. Each of MLB’s proposals has sought supplemental reductions to offset a drop in revenues for games played without fans.
If the sides are unable to reach an agreement, the March 26 deal gives MLB the authority to implement a season of its desired length as long as the players get paid full pro-rata. MLB reportedly is considering imposing a 50ish-game schedule.
MLB’s most recent proposal called for a 76-game schedule and guaranteed players 50% of their prorated salaries with an increase to 75% if the playoffs are completed. Like every economic model put forth by MLB, 75% of the prorated pay for 76 games works out to roughly $1.4 billion in total player salaries.
Under the players’ new proposal, 89 games at the full pro-rata is approximately $2.4 billion in overall player salaries. The $1 billion gulf would work out to roughly $33.3 million per team.
But what if the sides could reach a compromise of, say, 82 games and bridge the salary gap to about $800 million? Would the owners go for that?
Multiple reports Tuesday night indicated that the most hawkish owners didn’t view the players’ latest overture as a productive step toward a resolution.
If the players’ latest proposal moved the needle at all, it would be because of the allure of expanded playoffs. The players don’t appear to have much recourse if MLB forces a mini-season, but they can refuse to co-sign an expansion of the postseason in 2020 and 2021.
The players made one notable addition to their previous offer: They asked for $5 million from one of the joint funds they have with the owners to help support minor leaguers and social justice groups.
Also, the players maintained their offer to participate in several events -- a home-run derby, an All-Star Game, etc. -- that they believe would help the owners generate additional revenue. The owners claim they will lose an average of $640,000 per game played without fans.
The sides have already blown the potential for starting the season on July 4, which would have been a symbolic date for baseball’s return at a time when the nation has been overwhelmed by a deadly virus, skyrocketing unemployment, and civil unrest over police treatment of African Americans.
It’s unclear whether the Players Association set a deadline for MLB to respond to the latest offer. But with each passing day, time is running short for an agreement that would avoid the implementation of a 50-game mini-season.