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MLB, MLBPA remain far apart after sliding-scale pay offer

An empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland (Getty Images)

The prospect of a 2020 Major League Baseball season still hangs very much in the balance as the league and MLB Players Association remain far apart on the economics and safety protocols governing a rescheduled season.

As the league remains on hiatus due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, owners on May 26 presented the union with a revised economic proposal that would govern a planned 82-game season without attending fans. 

According to industry sources, owners quickly backed off of a previously discussed split of any revenue generated by playing games without attending fans, as players feared that could become a pathway toward a long-opposed salary cap. Instead, management has now moved toward a sliding-scale compensation model that would pay rookies and lower-paid players a greater percentage of their original salaries than what higher-paid stars would receive.

Union sources described the proposal as “extremely disappointing” as it represents further pay reductions beyond simply receiving prorated portions of their original contracts. MLB and the players in March agreed to a deal calling in part for players to be paid based on how much of a season is able to be played. 

In most instances, players would end up in the new MLB plan, between the prorating and the new sliding salary scale, receiving between 25 and 40 per cent of their original full-year pay if an 82-game regular season happens.

Some players also saw the owners’ latest salvo as a potential move to divide the union membership.

“Interesting strategy of making the best, most marketable players potentially look like the bad guys,” said Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson.

That prior MLB-MLBPA agreement from March in the early days of the pandemic, however, was predicated on attending fans who provide roughly 40 per cent of of industry revenue in a normal year. And owners remain fervent in their desire to see additional and significant player compensation adjustments based on the strong likelihood of any type of 2020 season not happening with full stadiums.

“We made a proposal to the union that is completely consistent with the economic realities facing our sport,” the league said in a statement. “We look forward to a responsive proposal from the MLBPA.”

The economics of an adjusted 2020 season isn’t the only troubled issue of the ongoing negotiations. The two sides are also said to be far apart on health and safety protocols that would govern a resumption of play. Because baseball is played most every day and it is very common for players to spend nearly 12 hours per day at the ballpark on game days, the sport presents some unique challenges to ensure safe environments amid the health crisis compared to the operational logistics surrounding other sports.

Time is increasingly becoming of the essence in the ongoing talks. Both sides ideally would like to resume play somewhere around the July 4 holiday in the US. But to do that, that would require several weeks of a revived Spring Training during June, and before that a deal to be in place by early next month to cover both the economic and health components of a revived season.

As a result, the next seven to 10 days will likely be critical toward the immediate future of the sport.

Formal next steps have yet to be determined. The union intends to review the latest league proposal with players before finalizing next steps.