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Manfred: “100 per cent” chance of MLB play in 2020

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announces the Detroit Tigers' selection of Spencer Torkelson with the first overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Despite the fractious negotiations between Major League Baseball and MLB Players Association over terms to restart the 2020 season, league commissioner Rob Manfred said there was a “100 per cent” chance of play happening this year. 

Speaking with ESPN June 10 before the network’s coverage of the reformatted 2020 MLB Draft, Manfred said that “unequivocally we are going to play Major League Baseball this year,” and that another management counterproposal will be made to respond to the union’s latest 89-game proposal.

“It will be another significant move in the players’ direction in terms of the salary issue that has kept us apart,” Manfred said. “We’re hope that it will produce reciprocal movement from the players’ association, that we’ll see a number other than 100 per cent on salary and some recognition that 89 games, given where we are in the calendar in the course of the pandemic, is not realistic.”

The two sides have been far apart on the notion of player compensation as they battle over terms to restart amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The union has steadfastly insisted on full prorating of players’ 2020 contracts, believing the issue was settled during a prior March agreement covering pandemic-related issues. 

Owners, conversely, are looking to have salary reductions in addition to the prorating, and have offered to pay full prorated salaries only in the event of a much shorter season around 50 games. Manfred has the ability to impose unilaterally a regular season of that length. But he would much rather strike a negotiated agreement given that making such a declaration could result in the union filing a grievance seeking damages, and would likely also kill chances of striking on a deal with the players on an expanded postseason that would help bring in much-needed additional revenue.

“I would prefer to negotiate a new agreement with the MLBPA that gets us more games and resolves the issues that have separated us,” Manfred said. “But at the end of the day, we negotiated for the right in March to start the season on a number of games that we select in these particular circumstances. And if we have to, we’ll exercise that right.”

Management’s last offer, issued June 8, was for a 76-game regular season played at 75 per cent pro rated salaries.

Time continues to be an enemy of the sport. Many other US-based pro sports properties have already resumed play, or have announced plans to do so shortly, and are also increasingly moving toward having events with some attending fans. MLB, meanwhile, is still trying to end the regular season in late September to allow for playoffs in October and is fearful of facing a resurgence this fall of the virus.

“Each and every day that goes by, we lose the capacity to play at least one game, and that’s really the time pressure that’s significant at this point in time,” Manfred said. 

Manfred, meanwhile, presided over the start of the Draft as planned from MLB Network’s Secaucus, New Jersey, studios. The Detroit Tigers, as expected, selected Arizona State infielder Spencer Torkelson with the first overall pick. Manfred opened the event broadcast with a statement supporting Black Lives Matter, and all representatives from all 30 clubs participating remotely all held up signs reading “Black Lives Matter/United for Change.”

“For many reasons, these are unprecedented times in our country, and also painful times,” Manfred said. “We share in the sadness and outrage that has resulted from the national tragedies that include the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others. Tonight, I join our 30 club baseball operations officials as they recognize, on behalf of our entire industry, that systemic racism and inequality are devastating problems, that we each do more to help. That baseball can do more as an institution. That black lives matter and that we are united for change.

“This moment is a call to action, to acknowledge the ills that exist, to show solidarity with the black community in its efforts to end racism and injustice. We want to utilize the platform afforded by our game to be not only allies, but active participants in social change,” Manfred said.