One way or another, there will be a Major League Baseball season this year.
“We’re going to play baseball in 2020,” commissioner Rob Manfred said Wednesday in an MLB Network interview before the annual amateur draft. “One-hundred percent.”
Manfred didn’t say that MLB and the Players Association will agree on economic terms for a pandemic-shortened season. But his declaration that there will be games confirmed what has long been assumed: If the sides are unable to make a deal, Manfred will use his authority to impose a schedule, likely for a 50ish-game season, with players receiving the prorated per-game salaries that they agreed to in a March 26 deal with the owners.
MLB is preparing a counterproposal that will be in the “players’ direction,” Manfred said, and likely will come before the end of the week. The latest offer on the table -- an 89-game season with full prorated salaries -- was made Tuesday night by the players, who rejected MLB’s offer of a 76-game season with 50% of the players’ salaries guaranteed and another 25% awaiting them if the World Series is played to completion.
The players are adamant about not reopening the March 26 pact and agreeing to additional salary concessions. Based on Manfred’s comments, MLB’s next proposal might come closer to 100% of the prorated salaries, although he also said he hopes the union will soften its stance. There aren’t indications of that happening, according to multiple sources.
Every proposal made so far by MLB, including the 76-game pitch, winds up with roughly $1.4 billion allocated for player salaries. The players’ 89-game proposal calls for roughly $2.4 billion, a decrease of about $800 million from the players’ previous proposal of 114 games. The $1 billion gulf between the sides works out to approximately $33.3 million per team.
Can the sides bridge the divide? If MLB met the players in the middle and offered, say, 82 games at full pro-rata, they would probably have a deal. But then the owners would be paying out roughly $2.2 billion in player salaries, about $800,000 more than they have offered thus far.
MLB has already squandered a potential Fourth of July opening day and all of the symbolism that it would carry for a nation that is coping with a deadly virus, rising unemployment, and civil unrest over police treatment of African Americans.
If MLB’s next proposal isn’t acceptable to the players, Manfred may have to go ahead with implementing a mini-season, which wouldn’t sit well with the players. Some players might even decide to opt out of playing rather than risk their health to return for a two-month season.
“The best thing for our sport,” Manfred said, “is to reach a negotiated agreement.”