After weeks of of heated public and private discussion, Major League Baseball is finally prepared to offer a comprehensive economic plan to the players’ union for a proposed 82 game season. Per Jeff Passan of ESPN, the league will deliver the plan sometime this week, and possibly as early as Tuesday.
As a result, within a week or so, we should have an idea whether the league has found their way to a proposal that will be acceptable to MLBPA head Tony Clark and the players, at least in the broad strokes. If things go well, you can expect preparations for a preseason training camp to kick into high gear almost immediately, with baseball little more than a month away. If they don’t, well we’re back to the drawing board with the possibility that no agreement will be possible in time to meet the proposed timetable of an 82 game season beginning in July.
Both sides have reason to make this work, so it shouldn’t come to that, but the pandemic has only sharpened an increasingly contentious relationship between MLB and the MLBPA. With the current collective bargaining agreement expiring next year anyway, negotiations can’t help but have the flavor of long-term decisions being made under extraordinarily volatile circumstances.
Obviously, money is the central issue, though not the only one. From the players’ side, they already agreed to a major pay cut back in March, accepting a prorated part of their contracted pay based on total games played. They’ve essentially taken a 50 percent pay cut already. MLB and the owners are pushing for further cuts, even floating some kind of revenue sharing arrangement, which the union has always refused in any form and appears set to do again.
Ownership argues that the loss of gate revenues is a catastrophic blow to them, but as it typically accounts for about 30 percent of their total revenue in a season that’s difficult to swallow. As our own Patrick O’ Kennedy broke it down last week, it’s been a long time since gate revenue was the biggest piece in the pie. And running a stadium obviously has costs that revenue streams from selling broadcasting rights do not.
Beyond the money, many major changes have already been tentatively agreed upon. If things go as planned we’re going to have an 82-game schedule with revamped divisions. The universal designated hitter will be in effect. Rosters will expand to 30 players, with a 20 player so-called taxi squad in reserves. Finally, nearly half the teams will get a look at the posteason as the expanded schedule calls for 14 playoff teams.
There really isn’t much reason for the players to concede ground in terms of their compensation. They have their own financial issues. For a player making the league minimum, the hit to their finances this year is particularly painful. And from their perspective, they already negotiated this out in March when the things shut down. Now the league is trying to double-dip into their earnings from their perspective.
NBC Sports reported last week that the players may offer a compromise by accepting deferral of some of the previously agreed upon prorated salary. That may be a way of holding a line on salary while still giving teams some time and flexibility to sort out their finances.
The players have already accepted in principal a host of changes and protocols that are going to make their lives more difficult, and they’re the ones taking the risks along with other league and team employees. Wherever you fall on the debate, it’s hard to dispute that the players have a lot of bargaining power here and the league and owners can’t expect to just get their way.
There are plenty of risks involved, but the owners simply have to try and have a season. With the expanded postseason schedule, they could potentially recoup a substantial part of their losses, and provide a particularly engaging season of baseball. Everyone loves a big tournament, right?
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA chief Tony Clark can make this work for players and owners both, and they have to, because failing to come to an agreement would be disastrous for the game and a potential catalyst for the kind of long-term labor strife many have feared was coming anyway.
There are an enormous amount of issues to be worked through. Even a perfect agreement isn’t going to guarantee that things turn out as hoped. But right now we just need a first step. Hopefully they find that path forward quickly.