Major league Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred revealed on Wednesday that he and MLB Players Association (MLBPA) president Tony Clark met in person and have agreed on “a joint framework” for the 2020 baseball season. MLB made a proposal to the players for a season that would be 60 games, with playoffs expanding to 16 teams for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, and players receiving full prorated salaries based on the number of games played. Further talks are expected on Thursday.
The MLBPA disputed any agreement in principal was reached, and tweeted, “Reports of an agreement are false.’’ What Manfred refers to an agreement, the MLBPA refers to as MLB’s proposal. In a memo sent by the MLBPA to the players, the union told MLB players:
...there are a ‘number of significant issues’ with Rob Manfred’s plan, and that there was certainly no agreement reached.
Several media outlets have confirmed that the players are demanding an increase in the number of games. The March agreement calls for the schedule to include “as many games as possible.”
Under the terms of MLB’s latest offer, players would resume spring training on June 29 with the season commencing three weeks later, on July 19. They would then play 60 games in 71 days. Those 11 off days, as well as the period before July 19, could provide room for more games, and a settlement. Manfred proposed a 72-game schedule just five days earlier.
The MLB proposal represents a breakthrough in that it is the first of the owners’ four offers that would provide players with full prorated salaries based on the number of games played. An agreement reached by the parties on March 26 provided for players to be paid prorated salaries, which they have made clear they were not willing to cut further. Owners have made three futile attempts to get the players to take less than prorated salaries, effectively offering about 35 percent of a full season’s salary each time.
The proposal from MLB is for essentially the same amount of money as their last proposal, but the salaries are not conditional upon completing the playoffs. The last offer was for 70 percent of prorated salaries for 72 games, with up to 83 percent of prorated salaries paid if the postseason was completed.
The designated hitter would be used full time by the National league in 2020 and 2021, and teams would be able to put advertising on their uniforms for the next two seasons to raise additional revenue. The players would agree to waive any grievances if an agreement is reached.
“At my request, Tony Clark and I met for several hours yesterday in Phoenix,” Manfred said Wednesday. “We left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective constituents. I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today.
“Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”
Negotiations broke down on Saturday when the players rejected a third proposal from the owners that would have cut player salaries further, after being prorated for the number of games played. Owners base the reduction in revenue based on games being played without fans. The players have maintained the position that they would not agree to cuts below full prorated salaries, and made two proposals for a 114-game season and for 89 games, as the parties agreed to on March 26.
Clark replied to MLB on Saturday.
“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.”
Those words — “Tell us when and where” — were echoed by players on social media repeatedly over the past several days.
Manfred, who had threatened to unilaterally impose a 50-game schedule if the players insisted on full prorated salaries pursuant to the March agreement, reacted to the players’ letter by telling ESPN that he was not confident that there would be a season. The players had effectively called Manfred’s bluff and he began backing off the shortened season threat at full speed, and instead threatening to cancel the season.
Most upsetting to Manfred and the owners was the prospect of the players filing a grievance seeking up to $1 billion on the basis that the March agreement calls for MLB to set a schedule for “as many games as possible.” Fifty games would clearly not meet that criteria. The owners would be forced to produce documents that they have steadfastly refused to give the players, with collective bargaining talks on the horizon.
Failure to reach an agreement would cost the players about $25 million total for each additional game not played, plus at least $25 million in playoff pool money. The owners would lose out on over $100 million per season in playoff revenue that would come from expanded playoffs, and face the prospect of losing a grievance even after producing documents.
Players have received a $170 million advance as part of the March agreement, as well as credit for a full season service time if that is what they earned in 2019. As part of the deal, MLB would write off $33 million of that advance.
Players earn a total of about $4.22 billion in salaries over a full 162-game season. A season of 65 games would give them just over 40 percent of that amount.
Of interest to Tigers fans, the March agreement allows the commissioner to change the draft order for 2021 if any team plays fewer than 81 games during the 2020 season. How the draft order would be changed is unclear.