Here's the pitch from Major League Baseball: 60 games.
Take it, or leave it?
Rather than countering the Players Association’s latest proposal of 70 games -- and moving toward a potential compromise at the midpoint of 65 games at a total cost to the 30 owners of roughly $135 million in player pay -- MLB drew a line in the proverbial sand at 60 games, the union said in a statement Friday night.
Faced with that ultimatum, the players seem to have two choices:
(a) Agree to the 60-game framework that commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark discussed in Phoenix this week and mobilize for "spring training 2.0" in preparation for a season that would begin on approximately July 20.
(b) Decline the 60-game outline and force Manfred to either impose a schedule, likely from 48 to 60 games, or cancel the season altogether.
"Our Executive Board will convene in the near future to determine next steps," the Players Association said in its statement. "Players remain committed to getting back to work as soon as possible."
Looming over everything, of course, is the coronavirus, which has killed more than 119,000 people in the United States.
Earlier Friday, the Phillies reported MLB’s first known outbreak, with five players and three staff members stationed in Clearwater, Fla., testing positive for COVID-19. Thirty-two more people (20 players, 12 staffers) were awaiting their test results.
If further widespread outbreaks occur with other teams, it could render the months-long back-and-forth over economic matters moot -- except, of course, for the damage that this acrimonious and exasperating episode has done to both sides' reputations.
Considering the deep-seated mistrust and genuine dislike between the parties, the implementation of a schedule by Manfred might be the most likely outcome, even though he strongly prefers to broker an agreement for two notable reasons:
First, if Manfred sets a schedule without the players’ approval, the players won’t co-sign an expanded 16-team playoff format that the owners badly want. Second, Manfred and the owners for whom he works would almost certainly invite a grievance from the players.
A grievance wouldn’t scuttle the season, but players would claim that MLB didn’t make a “best effort” to play the most games possible and seek financial damages worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Then again, the events of the last five days -- and the dwindling calendar -- might have been designed to lessen the likelihood that the players would win such a grievance.
To recap: With the players adamant about receiving the per-game prorated pay that they negotiated in a March 26 agreement with MLB and Clark having dared the commissioner to implement a season -- "Tell us when and where," he said in a statement -- Manfred requested a face-to-face sit-down with the union leader and jetted across the country to meet him.
The sides talked Tuesday in Phoenix, with Manfred delivering the message that the owners had finally given in on per-game pay. When the meeting adjourned on Wednesday, Manfred released a statement that the sides achieved a “jointly developed framework” of 60 games “that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement.”
Clark saw it differently, believing instead that the 60-game framework was MLB’s latest proposal. The players countered with a 70-game proposal at per-game pay.
The gap between the 60- and 70-game offers: approximately $250 million in total player salaries, or $8.4 million per team, or roughly the cost of a free-agent No. 5 starter. If they split the difference at 65 games, it would cut the margin to roughly $125 million, or $4.2 million per team.
But MLB's message to the union on Friday signaled the owners' unwillingness to budge off a 60-game offer that they and Manfred interpreted as an outline for an agreement, not a continuance of the negotiations.
It marks the second time in four months that MLB and the players were unable to agree on what they'd agreed on. There was a dispute over the language in the March 26 accord, with MLB insisting that the per-game pay agreement could be renegotiated if fans weren't going to be permitted at games.
If there’s any good news in any of this, it’s that it will be resolved soon.
Even if Manfred were to implement a 50ish-game mini-season, spring training would have to resume before the end of June for a season to start in July and conclude by Sept. 27, the owners’ desired end date.