MLBPA weighs next steps in ongoing battle with MLB

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark (Photo by Alex Trautwig/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images)

The Major League Baseball Players Association is now weighing its next steps in an effort to salvage the 2020 season after a set of new information came into the union over the weekend that could significantly alter its negotiations with MLB.

MLB late on June 19 informed the union it would not consider the union’s counterproposal for a 70-game season, and that the league does not intend to play more than 60 regular season games. Both sides are also increasingly grappling with growing spike in Covid-19 cases in the US, particularly in Florida and Arizona where MLB Spring Training facilities are located. Those facilities have now been closed for cleaning.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred then contacted Tony Clark, union executive director, on June 21 with an amend to his prior offer of a 60-game season: if the two sides are able to reach a negotiated agreement that would include expanded playoffs and a universal designated hitter, the league would not get those components in 2021 if the 2020 season were to be cut short because of developments related to Covid-19. 

The move seeks to address concerns among some players that a negotiated agreement would involve giving management the revenue enhancement of an expanded playoffs and forfeiting the union’s ability to file a labor grievance. Some players do not want to give management those elements without gaining some concessions in return, and are fearful of seeing management gain crucial long-term benefits amid a 2020 season that could ultimately be curtailed further due to the pandemic.

“Given the Covid developments, I understand the players are concerned that the 2020 season will be truncated beyond the agreed-upon number of games (for example, we agree to play 60 and can only play 40),” Manfred wrote in an email to Clark. “If that were to happen, I would be prepared to eliminate the 2021 components of the deal. That would mean we would not get the expanded playoffs in 2021 and the DH rule would revert to the current rule (DH in the American League, no DH in the National League).”

It is not certain exactly how the new developments will change the course of the negotiations. Prior to this, the union’s executive subcommittee was poised to take a formal vote and reject management’s 60-game proposal. That rejection would have been predicated on the belief it would be more valuable for players to retain their leverage on expanded postseason and keep the ability to file a labor grievance if needed, as opposed giving those things up for the roughly 10 extra games management’s deal would have provided compared to if Manfred unilaterally imposes the length of the regular season, as is his right so long as players receive full prorated salaries.

The new wrinkles come as the league and union have spent weeks battling over provisions to restart the 2020 season, particularly with regard to economics. Players have been firm in their insistence they receive full prorated salaries, while owners initially made several offers that called for further pay reductions beyond the prorating. Following a meeting last week in Arizona between Manfred and Clark, management finally agreed to pay full prorating, but has indicated it will not go beyond a 60-game regular season. 

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.