MLB has power to implement a season without players’ consent
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to implement a shortened season of at least 50 games without the player union’s approval if the two sides can’t reach an agreement by next week, three MLB executives told USA TODAY Sports.
The executives spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to speak publicly with the sensitivity of the negotiations.
“If we don’t get an agreement real soon, this is going to be ugly,’’ one executive said. “Real ugly. And it’s just going to get worse.’’
The fear without an agreement is that several of the game’s biggest stars may decide to sit out this season, believing it’s not worth the health risk while receiving only about 33% of their annual salary to play this season.
One owner says he has already been informed that several of his players indicated they wouldn’t play this year under those conditions, forfeiting their salary while not receiving service time.
The MLB Players' Association rejected MLB’s latest proposal on Tuesday and countered with an 89-game schedule -- starting July 10 and ending Oct. 11 -- that would pay players their full pro-rated salary, while also agreeing to an expanded postseason the next two seasons.
MLB, according to the three executives, is expected to swiftly reject the union’s proposal and make a counter offer.
While the players reduced their initial proposal from 114 games and $2.8 billion to $2.2 billion in total salaries, they still are about $900 million apart with the refusal to accept any pay cut from their pro-rated salaries.
“We remain opposed to any further pay cuts for players who are being asked to take on extraordinary burdens and risks in the current environment, particularly in the absence of any convincing evidence to support your claims of economic infeasibility,’’ Bruce Meyer, lead attorney of the MLBPA, told deputy commissioner Dan Halem in their offer.
There is no deadline in the union’s proposal, but requested that MLB respond by the end of the week.
MLB’s last formal offer on Monday guaranteed players 75% of their prorated salaries in a 76-game regular season -- ending Sept. 27 -- if the postseason is not cancelled, and 50% with no postseason. MLB insists it will not play regular-season games past that date because of fear of a second wave of the coronavirus while acknowledging that their national TV partners don’t want postseason games played in November, conflicting with other sports.
The union, which pointed out that other sports are scheduled to be played in November without fear of a second wave, offered to accept a flat fee of $50 million if the postseason is cancelled. It also proposed a $5 million contribution from a joint fund to provide assistance to minor leagues and charitable organizations focused on social justice issues.
The union accepted the provision in MLB’s proposal that permitted players to opt out of the season, with only players considered “high risk’’ to COVID-19 still paid while receiving service time.
Major League Baseball is seeking to expand the postseason from 10 teams to 16, with potentially 65 playoff games, worth about $1 billion in TV revenue. The union agreed to the expansion if MLB accepts their proposal. Yet, if no agreement is reached, the playoffs would be relegated back to its old format. It would eliminate an extra round of playoffs and have no more than 33 potential postseason games, and keep their postseason share at $777 million.
The union also promised to participate in postseason All-Star and home-run derby events, while permitting to be more frequently mic’d up for clubs’ broadcasts. Those enhancements would also disappear if no agreement is reached.
The greatest fear with no agreement is that the contentiousness would spill into next year’s collective bargaining negotiations, threatening the first work stoppage since 1994-1995. Their five-year agreement expires Dec. 1, 2021.
It would all but assure another 18 months of hostility. The free-agent market could collapse with owners claiming this year’s losses would prevent them from bidding on players, no matter how glamorous their numbers look on their bubble-gum cards.
Fans, so disgusted by the negotiations during the pandemic with more than 40 million Americans filing for unemployment the last three months, could turn their back on the sport and stay away for good. Even if ballparks are completely open in 2021, they may stay away out of spite.
When the World Series was cancelled in 1994, it took the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race in 1998 for baseball to recover, finally reaching the 70 million attendance mark again. There’s no one who can save the sport this time around, particularly in a short season where everything will be defined by an asterisk.
But rest assured, there will be baseball. Manfred has the power to implement a season as long as players receiving their full pro-rated salary.
He could attempt to appease the players with at least a 70-game season. If the regular season started July 10, and ended Sept. 27, there still would be 80 days on the calendar.
Yet, the owners prefer a shorter season, as few as 48 games, insisting they will lose $640,000 per team for each regular-season game played.
The two sides likely have another week of negotiations before it’s in Manfred’s hands.
He has given the two sides 76 days to work out a deal, and although the two sides have made slight movement this week, they’re barely closer to reaching a deal now than when they shook hands (virtually by zoom) with their last March 26 agreement.
Manfred will make sure the fans have baseball this year.
He has the power to do that.
But he’s powerless to control anyone from forever viewing the game differently.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale.