If Major League Baseball’s latest 2020 economic proposal, delivered Friday to the Players Association and sure to be rejected, also winds up being its best – and time is running too short to be withholding a better offer – then the sides are destined for the 50ish-game mini-season that neither seems to want.
Either way, a resolution finally appears to be on the horizon, likely by the end of next week.
MLB’s new pitch reportedly includes elements that should appeal to the union: 72 games, expanded playoffs, opt-outs with pay and service time for players deemed to be at greater risk for COVID-19, a month-long expansion of active rosters to 29 players, and the elimination of draft-pick compensation tied to free agency.
But it also calls for a reduction of the prorated salaries that the players agreed upon in March, a nonstarter in all negotiations thus far.
The players are adamant about not reopening that March accord, a stance from which they will not budge. The owners claim they will lose $640,000 per game without fans, according to the Associated Press, accounting that is disputed by the players.
MLB’s new plan would guarantee only 70% of the players’ prorated salaries, with an additional 13% if the World Series is completed. Based on a rough estimate of $4.1 billion in total player salaries for a normal 162-game season, the players would receive between $1.27 billion and $1.51 billion.
Put another way: The players are still being asked to play 44.4% of the season at between 31.1% and 35.6% of their full-season salaries.
MLB did increase the pay scale from its previous proposal on June 8. In that 76-game offer, the players would have been guaranteed only 50% of their prorated pay, with an additional 25% if the playoffs were completed, or roughly $96.2 million to $1.44 billion in total.
In the union’s most recent offer, issued on June 9, the players would receive 100% of their prorated pay for 89 games for an aggregate $2.25 billion. The difference between that total and the new MLB proposal ranges from roughly $812 million to $1.28 billion, an average of $27.1 million to $42.7 million per team.
If the sides are unable to reach an agreement, likely by the end of next week, commissioner Rob Manfred will use his authority under the March agreement to impose a 50ish-game season with the players receiving full prorated pay, a total of roughly $1.27 billion in total salaries – or the equivalent of the guaranteed money in the 72-game proposal.
The union probably would contest such a move, citing a clause in the March agreement that calls for Manfred to make a “good faith” effort to play as many games as possible. The players also likely wouldn’t co-sign the expanded playoffs that are so strongly desired by owners.
As it is, the players’ reaction to MLB’s new proposal didn’t leave much ambiguity.
Phillies leftfielder Andrew McCutchen weighed in on Twitter with a simple “Lol,” which was the same reaction he offered after the June 8 proposal. He also posted a homemade video in which he likened MLB’s request for further salary reductions to a father who promises juice to potty-train his toddler before repeatedly making the less satisfying offer of water in various forms, from a bottle to a cup to a coffee mug.
It might be telling that MLB is tying player compensation to the completion of the postseason.
Because most of the national TV money is made during the playoffs, the owners have insisted on keeping the World Series in October out of fear of a second wave of the coronavirus in the fall. But a recent spike in cases in Arizona and Florida – spring-training sites for many teams – might be sparking increased concern about disruptions in play.
MLB outlined health-and-safety protocols in a 67-page manual last month. But Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the infectious disease clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said Friday that the off-field behavior of players and staff, particularly on the road, will dictate how effectively the spread of the virus can be limited.
“It would be irresponsible to say you’re going to have 100% control over these professionals who are basically doing this for their career,” Sax said by phone. "You’d have to just try to provide as safe an environment as possible for them. I do think you could make it as safe for them as possible without them being in a bubble.”
Having already blown an opportunity for a Fourth of July opening day, MLB is reportedly aiming now to begin the regular season on July 14.
Players would need at least five days to reconvene, then three weeks for spring training, so MLB has asked the union to respond to its 72-game proposal by Sunday. The longer this goes into next week, the shorter the season will have to be.