MLB makes new offer, still faces opposition on number of games

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

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred flew this week to Phoenix, Arizona, to meet face-to-face with MLB Players Association Tony Clark, emerging with what the league called a “jointly developed framework” to save the 2020 season. But the two sides remain divided on the number of games a regular season this year would have and obstacles remain before a deal can be struck. 

Manfred, according to industry sources, presented a new offer for a 60-game regular season that for the first time would give players the 100 per cent prorated salaries, something the players have steadfastly insisted upon for the past three months. The latest management proposal would also include expanded playoffs, a universal designated hitter, and a guaranteed postseason players’ compensation pool, even if there are no tickets sold.

“At my request, Tony Clark and I meet for several hours [June 16] in Phoenix,” Manfred said. “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, I am encouraging the clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same,” Manfred said. 

But the MLBPA, sources said, continues to press for a longer season and more money for players. The latest management proposal would pay a total of about $1.5bn in player compensation, roughly similar to aggregate payouts in prior owner offers, though this money would be fully guaranteed and not require the postseason to be completed to be fully achieved. 

The last MLBPA offer, an 89-game proposal that is no longer possible given calendar constraints and was previously rejected by owners, would have paid players a total of about $2.2bn, a little more than half of the roughly $4bn in total compensation that would have been paid had the season not been suspended to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Owners have wanted to end the regular season September 27, as originally scheduled, in order to preserve its usual October postseason window and avoid a potential fall resurgence in the virus. If the season were to begin July 19 following a second Spring Training, there would be 71 days on the calendar before hitting that September date.

The union has not commented on the Manfred-Clark meeting or management’s latest offer, except for a June 17 tweet in response to some press reports of a potentially imminent deal that said “reports of an agreement are false.”

Still, the face-to-face meeting represented a marked turn in the negotiations that grown increasingly dark and combative over the past two weeks. Marked in part by a series of angry letters between MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem and Bruce Meyer, MLBPA senior director of collective bargaining and legal, the talks had included several accusations of each side accusing the other of bad faith, setting up an increasing possibility of formal labor grievances being filed. 

And earlier this week, Manfred appeared on ESPN and said he was “not confident” of being able to play the 2020 season amid the fractious negotiations. 

But soon thereafter, he headed to Phoenix to meet with Clark. The meeting represented the first time they had negotiated face-to-face since March, with all subsequent communication happening by telephone, email, videoconferencing, and written letters. More talks are expected in the coming days. 

Manfred has had the unilateral authority to implement the length of a 2020 regular season so long as full prorated salaries were paid, and there have been threats of just a 50-game season, something players strongly opposed. But with the looming possibility of a union grievance if that were to happen, Manfred continues to seek a negotiated solution.

Baseball remains in catch-up mode with regard to its restart plans compared to other major US sports leagues. The National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Women’s National Basketball Association, and Major League Soccer have each begun to formalize plans for their respective restarts.