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Talks collapse; shortened baseball season likely

MLB owners and players say no further offers are expected.

An official Rawlings Major League Baseball for the 2020 Major League Baseball season. Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

The major league baseball players’ association announced on Saturday that they were rejecting the owners most recent proposal to pay them from 70 to 80 percent of their prorated salaries for a 72 game season. A statement released by MLBPA president Tony Clark indicated that...

“it unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile. It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

MLB responded with it’s own message.

“We are disappointed that the MLBPA has chosen not to negotiate in good faith over resumption of play after MLB has made three successive proposals that would provide players, Clubs and our fans with an amicable resolution to a very difficult situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The result is that Commissioner Rob Manfred will now propose a shortened schedule in the range of 50-plus games, with no expanded playoffs, and both sides will file grievances against each other.

The proposals

The three proposals that MLB made to the players would have paid them in the range of 35 percent of their full salaries for playing from 72 to 82 games. They would have expanded the playoffs from 10 to 16 teams.

The owners’ first proposal called for pay cuts on a sliding scale, with salaries over $20 million paid at the rate of 10 cents on the dollar. The next two proposals included similar reductions in salary and actually less money in guaranteed salaries. They were not moving forward toward agreement.

The players made two counter offers to play 114 games and 89 games, respectively, at their prorated salaries. The players had agreed to extend the playoffs to 16 teams for two seasons, which would have been worth up to $250 million in additional revenue to owners.

The players’ second proposal for an 89 game season would have paid them $630 million less than their first offer. The players’ proposals would have the season run into October with playoffs in November. This is something that the owners wanted to avoid as they wanted to ensure that a second wave of the coronavirus did not cancel the more lucrative post season games.

Accusations fly

The owners accuse the players of not negotiating in good faith. This claim is based on a clause in the agreement reached by the two sides last March, which said:

MLB and the union will discuss the economic feasibility of playing games at neutral sites or without fans.

The players claim that the owners stonewalled them in failing to produce documentation to support their claim that they would lose money by playing games without fans. At one point, the owners made a ludicrous claim that they would lose over $4 billion if they played half a season with no fans. Thus, the players were not required to agree to accept less than fully prorated salaries, and they didn’t.

Two sentences in a letter from the MLBPA to MLB outline the players’ frustrations:

“Your own self-serving slide presentation showed that the league as a whole will lose significantly less money playing a season than not playing a season, and Rob admitted this in response to a direct question,”

“With respect to other assertions in the presentation, we found it incomplete, unclear and unpersuasive and requested information that would allow us to verify it. Your eventual response was completely inadequate.”

The letter refers to a May 22 letter from the league that reads,

“We agree with the Association that, under the agreement, players are not required to accept less than their full prorated salary.”

It didn’t help matters that word of a new agreement between MLB and Turner broadcasting that would pay them $3.25 billion over 10 years was announced. Clark said that information was part of the documentation that the MLBPA had requested but was not given by MLB.

The players also accuse the owners of bad faith in refusing to extend the season to get more games played, per the March agreement:

“Discussions shall include “one-time changes to the structure, format, qualification rules” and “potential ways to expand the postseason beyond its current format.”

Once again, the language does not require the owners to agree to extend the regular season into October.

The March agreement gives the commissioner the ability to unilaterally determine the number of games to be played.

“MLB will propose a schedule “using best efforts to play as many games as possible, while taking into account player safety and health, rescheduling needs, competitive considerations, stadium availability, and the economic feasibility of various alternatives.”

Now what happens?

Manfred is expected to propose a schedule in the range of 50-plus games, and the players are expected to file a grievance on the basis that 50 games is not “as many games as possible”. If economic feasibility is the reason for shortening the season, the players will demand that the owners open their books to prove their claims. The grievances will be heard by an arbitrator and will not prevent the season from being played.

There will be baseball in 2020. There will be a 50-plus game schedule after a couple weeks of spring training in the summer. And there will be playoffs consisting of ten teams.

Gone are the chances of getting at least half a season played in 2020. Gone are the chances of an expanded playoffs, and the revenue that goes with it. Gone is any semblance of civility between the owners and players. This does not bode well for the two sides reaching an agreement when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.