Major League Baseball is now poised to implement the length of the 2020 season after the league was unable to strike a negotiated agreement with the MLB Players Association.
The union’s executive board on June 22 rejected by a 33-5 vote a proposal from the league calling for a 60-game season, expanded playoffs, a universal designated hitter, a guaranteed $25m postseason pool for players, and $33m in forgiven salary advances. Instead, the 30 team owners voted unanimously to establish a regular season of similar length, as they have the right to do following a March agreement on pandemic-related issues, that will likely begin in late July but without those additional components.
“Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development,” MLB said in a statement. “The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. It gave our fans the chance to exciting new postseason format. And it offered players significant benefits.”
The league is now asking the MLBPA for confirmation by 5 pm ET on June 23 that the players will be able to report to a revived Spring Training by July 1, and that they will agree to health and safety protocols that will govern the sport’s market-based return to play amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
If those steps happen, the MLB season is expected to start over the July 24-26 weekend, with the regular season ending September 27 and a 10-team playoff to follow in October.
The union’s vote on the the broader return-to-play proposal came after their own counterproposal for a 70-game regular season was sharply rejected by ownership.
Following that, the union effectively concluded that the difference between a negotiated deal for 60 regular season games, compared to what will now happen in the league’s unilateral implementation scenario, was not worth giving up its leverage on the robust revenue potential of expanded playoffs and introducing corporate uniform patches for North American-based games, or the right to file a grievance relative to the March agreement.
The MLBPA now retains its power in those areas, and it is expected that both sides will file grievances accusing the other of bad-faith negotiating.
“While we had hoped to reach a revised back-to-work agreement with the league, the players remain fully committed to proceeding under our current agreement and getting back on the field for the fans, and for each other,” the union said in a statement.
MLB’s plan to play about 60 games, instead of the roughly 50 as previously threatened, could be a move to defend against a grievance and a claim the league did not use its best efforts to play as many games as possible.
The league’s move to implement the 2020 regular season also now ends weeks of back-and-forth, frequently bitter, and ultimately fruitless negotiating between the league and union. The players had long insisted they be paid full prorated salaries based on the number of games played. But owners made several offers calling for further compensation discounts beyond the prorating, creating a wide ideological division that prompted MLB commissioner Rob Manfred last week to say he was “not confident” of playing the 2020 season.
The league finally agreed to pay full prorated salaries following a face-to-face meeting last week in Arizona between Manfred and Tony Clark, union executive director. But the two sides could not agree on the number of games that would be played, along with other components such as how binding the terms were that Manfred and Clark discussed in their meeting, and the saga leaves plenty of bitterness and toxicity as the two sides are set to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement next year.
“It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been,” tweeted Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer. “Both sides. We’re driving the bus straight off the cliff. How is this good for anyone involved? Covid-19 already presented a lose-lose-lose situation and we’ve somehow found a way to make it worse. Incredible.”
Because of the lack of a negotiated agreement for the 2020 season restart, there will be some unusual circumstances for players. Because of prior salary advances, players making at or near the league minimum of $563,500 will receive little to no additional money as what they have been already paid is often in excess of what they are due to earn on a full prorated basis in a 60-game season.
And if there are no attending fans during the playoffs because of Covid-19 restrictions, there will be no payments then for players beyond meal money as postseason compensation for players is traditionally based on percentages of gate receipts.
Meanwhile, the sport, like every other one in the US, will also grapple with the country’s sharp rise in Covid-19 cases. Because of that, each team with perhaps the exception of the Toronto Blue Jays will be training for the season restart in their home markets instead of at Spring Training facilities in Florida and Arizona.