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MLB floats shorter schedule as tensions rise with MLBPA

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, left, and MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark (Photo by LG Patterson/MLB via Getty Images)

Major League Baseball is threatening to stage just a 50-game regular season for 2020, according to multiple reports, as tensions continue to mount in negotiations with the MLB Players Association.

The union earlier this week levied a formal counterproposal, looking to stage a 114-game season that would see original 2020 contracts honored and players paid on a straight prorated basis on the number of games played. The offer materially differed from a prior management offer of an 82-game season and a sliding-scale pay offer that would see high-salaried stars facing the largest wage cuts.

Owners have now have come back to the union and proposed allowing for those prorated salary payments, but doing so only with a severely truncated game schedule hovering around 50 regular-season games, less than a third of a normal 162-game season, and as few as 40 games. The notion has been raised in talks between MLB and MLBPA, as each side tries to figure out how to resume play amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but has not reached a stage of a full, formal counterproposal.

Regardless of the form, union executives did not see the notion of a heavily shortened regular season, or management’s tactics, as constructive.

“This is all part of the league’s attempts to negotiate through the media instead of focusing on how to bring baseball back to its fans,” said Tony Clark, MLBPA executive director, in a statement. 

Time continues to be of the essence in the ongoing baseball talks. Each side would like to restart play in early July, with games to be played without fans, at least at the outset. But doing so and having enough time for a second Spring Training would require striking a deal in the coming days. 

The competing game and schedule proposals, however, help illustrate how apart the two sides still are. The players’ 114-game plan would see them paid about $2.8bn of their original $4bn of contracted 2020 salaries. The owners’ sliding-scale pay plan, conversely, would see an aggregate payout to players of about $1.2bn. 

The owners and players are also battling over core interpretations of a prior March agreement that was designed to cover pandemic-related issues. That deal originally contemplated attending fans upon the resumption of play and calls for the parties to “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility” of playing without fans.

Management believes the inability to have attending fans in turn reopens the conversation of player compensation. Players, however, do not agree with that notion and believe the compensation issue is closed and should remain based on prorating.