The baseball world went into a frenzy last night when Jon Heyman reported that Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association were closing in on an agreement to play a shortened 2020 season with full prorated salaries.
Unfortunately, the excitement was squashed quickly when the MLBPA said…
Reports of an agreement are false.
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) June 17, 2020
What happened, it seems, is that Rob Manfred believed that he and Union head Tony Clark agreed to the framework of a return-to-play deal, but the wagon got put ahead of the horse a bit because the Union itself hadn’t actually given the deal a thumbs up.
It’s yet another chapter in this slog of a saga we’ve been grinding through the past few months, but, it does seem as though the two sides are inching closer and closer to a deal. The key concession in this plan is that the owners are offering the players full prorated salaries, which is what was agreed upon in the first place back in March when things got shut down.
The new sticking point appears to be the number of games in the schedule. MLB’s most recent offer features a 60-game season to be played over the course of 70 days. The players, naturally, want more games because that would inevitably result in them receiving a larger percentage of their salaries.
Buster Olney speculated that the “final haggling” will result in a 65-game season. Jayson Stark pointed out that a 66-game season makes sense because it allows for a clean schedule of 12 games against four divisional opponents three games against four interleague opponents, and six home-and-home games against an interleague geographical rival.
A few more things that are being shoehorned into the deal include the standard two we’ve seen already, which is a universal DH and expanded post-season field plus the new addition of advertisements on jerseys. All of these things are being proposed for both 2020 and 2021.
One thing that “the purists” are gonna hate:
The owners have proposed being able to sell commercial advertisements on uniforms for 2020 and 2021.
Again, it’s in the proposal, which as many have reported is not a done deal.
— Trevor Plouffe (@trevorplouffe) June 18, 2020
The advertisement on the jersey seems like an inevitability. The NBA is featuring ads on the chest of a jersey and they aren’t overly intrusive, but, of course, the purists are going to get up in arms about seeing a company’s logo on the sacred Yankee pinstripes.
But is it really that different than the bombardment of ads you see everywhere else in a baseball game? The ones that are digitally placed on the field? Or behind the batter during an at-bat? Or the ones all around the field? We’re so constantly bombarded with advertisements at this point having them on the jersey will hardly make a difference.
Anyways, the more interesting there here is that the proposal is for these things to happen for 2020 and 2021. The play here for MLB is to use the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic to ease in new ways to expand profitability but do so for long enough that those things end up just feeling natural and they just quietly become a thing forever.
Like, the expanded post-season field has been something that Rob Manfred has pushed for years now. Even back in February, which seems like a decade ago at this point, there was talk about having 14 teams in the playoffs and doing a reality show where the best teams chose who they wanted to face. So, predictably, MLB is using this circumstance as a way to quickly shoehorn in the long-term changes that they covet.
I mean, if you’re a purist, I can see being against the watering down of the post-season, but, as somebody who cheers for the Toronto Blue Jays who happen to play in a division with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, I think I can live with more teams making the playoffs.
And, finally, one other major sticking point for the players will be that agreeing to this deal means they agree not to file a grievance against MLB for this process. According to Robert Murray, those familiar with the PA’s position believe that losing the ability to file a grievance might not be worth a 60-game season (less than 50 percent of salaries).
People familiar with players’ thinking believe that they are seeking more games because they dont feel a 60-game season is worth losing their right to file a grievance.
“The ability to file a grievance,” one agent said, “is almost worth letting the owners cancel the season.”
— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) June 18, 2020
This is obviously a really bad look on the players on the surface. After saying “WHEN AND WHERE” they would ultimately be backing off and saying “no that’s not good enough” when the owners offer them what they had been asking for.
But the argument from the perspective of the players is that the league wasn’t negotiating in good faith throughout the process. MLB essentially offered the exact same shitty proposal three different times before, in the middle of June, “caving” and offering what the two sides had originally agreed to back in March.
Why did it take the owners so long to offer this proposal? Could this really not have been offered back in May when there was a possibility of executing something close to a 162-game season? The whole point, the players will argue, is that MLB pushed things back as far as they could go in order to reach a last-second deal with a short regular season (functioning to pay the players the least amount of cash possible) and a large post-season (in which owners can pocket a bunch of cash because the players aren’t paid regular salaries, just a pre-agreed-upon bonus pool).
The PA also wants to maintain its ability to file a grievance because of the possibility that it results in the owners having to open their books. Owners have been crying poor throughout this process claiming that having no fans in the building will result in them losing a whole bunch of money, but there hasn’t ever been any evidence of that being the case.
The PA filing a grievance in regards to MLB negotiating in bad faith and possibly having to share their internal revenue details would give the players a lot more leverage heading into the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is right around the corner. The owners are going to have to hand over some major concessions in order to get the players to give up their ability to file a grievance that could, down the road, be worth a lot.
Of course, there’s also the overarching reality of baseball’s popularity and relevance taking a massive hit looming over this situation. Wiping out the entire 2020 season due to what publicly to the average fan is nothing more than rich people haggling over money would result in a massive dent in the sport’s already struggling image.
It’s a game of chicken at this point.