The 2020 Major League Baseball season stands in heightened doubt after owners formally rejected a proposal from the MLB Players Association for a 114-game season.
As the league and union continue to wrestle with how to resume play amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, management now does not plan to make a formal counteroffer to the players. Instead, owners are continuing to press toward a previously floated idea of a 50-game regular season.
MLB believes a prior pandemic-related agreement struck in March allows commissioner Rob Manfred to determine the length of the regular season this year, so long as players are paid on a prorated basis from their 2020 contracts.
While there has been negotiating progress on the health-related components of a resumed MLB season, the owners and players are still far apart on an economic framework. The MLBPA is still looking to see players’ original 2020 contracts honored and paid on the straight prorated basis on the number of games played, and has been firmly against any notion that would see any sort of additional wage cuts.
The owners, conversely, have been seeking greater wage concessions due to the likelihood of most or all 2020 games played without any attending fans and corresponding gate revenue. Management as a result previously proposed a sliding-scale pay offer that would have seen high-salaried stars facing the largest wage cuts.
The competing game and schedule proposals help illustrate how divided the two sides still are. The players’ 114-game plan would have seen them paid about $2.8bn of their original $4bn of contracted 2020 salaries. The owners’ sliding-scale pay plan, conversely, would have seen an aggregate payout to players of about $1.2bn. A 50-game season at prorated original salaries would also yield around $1.2bn in payments.
The players do hold some additional leverage as union approval would likely be needed for an expanded postseason, something MLB would like as part of move to drive additional revenue in the abbreviated season. The MLBPA has discussed the notion of a larger playoff format, but thus far only in context of a larger agreement.
But despite the fractious talks and wide monetary divide, there is still some hope existing among some senior baseball executives.
“Despite what it sounds like with some of the Twitter bickering back and forth and some of the posturing back and forth, I am optimistic that we are going to play baseball this year,” said David Stearns, Milwaukee Brewers president of baseball operations. “I’m optimistic that both sides genuinely want to play baseball this year, that’s there’s a path to do doing so, even if it’s a shorter season, even if it’s 50 games.”
There is no hard deadline for an agreement to be reached. Both sides, however, would like to restart play in early July. Doing so and allowing for a second Spring Training to get players back into game shape would require a deal to be struck in the coming days. Owners are also reluctant to embrace any type of schedule that would see games played beyond end of October, in part out of fear of a Covid-19 resurgence that would see play halted again.
But the sport is also facing growing pressure to not shut down the sport due to economic squabbles, particularly when US unemployment claims during the pandemic have surpassed 40 million and other American-based team sports properties such as Major League Soccer and the National Basketball Association are now finding their way back to action.
There was some brief discussion between the league and union about deferring some portion of player salaries this year, with the general idea being to aid owners’ cash flow while many revenue sources are still so impaired. But the notion was quickly rejected as owners typically would have less expensive access to capital to pay salary obligations this year compared to the interest requirements that would be required with salary deferrals.