Major League Baseball made a second proposal Monday for restarting this pandemic-fractured season. And once again, the Players Association is prepared to reject it, according to sources, as the possible number of games that can be salvaged this year appears to shrink by the day.
This latest offer includes a 76-game season, but at 75% of the players’ prorated salaries with only a 50% base guaranteed — the other 25% percent to be paid if the playoffs are completed, sources said Monday. The Players Association has remained unified in its demand for 100% of prorated salaries, regardless of MLB’s calculations, and does not seem inclined to waver on that point in the days ahead.
MLB also has offered to drop the draft-pick compensation for free agents this offseason, a longtime irritant for the players, and expand the postseason to as many as 16 teams, a significant increase from the current 10.
The playoffs are a crucial element to any proposal because of MLB’s fear of a second wave of coronavirus wiping out the most lucrative part of its season, an estimated financial boost of more than $800 million. Both of MLB’s proposals have featured a bump in the number of playoff teams — saddled with the virus-spurred urgency to wrap up the season by the end of October — and the expanded postseason can’t happen without the union’s approval.
Because the Players Association has shown no signs of settling for anything less than 100% of prorated salaries, a payout determined by the total of scheduled games, perhaps a compromise on season length could be tied to the prospect of those expanded playoffs — the biggest moneymaker for the owners. The union’s first and only proposal suggested a 114-game season (a non-starter for MLB) but also offered two years of an expanded playoff structure.
Having already blown the July 4 target, MLB’s latest proposal mentions a July 10 Opening Day as well as finishing the regular season by Sept. 27, making Wednesday the expiration date of this offer. The expectation is that teams will need roughly three weeks of spring training to prepare at sites that are still undetermined, based on the COVID-19 status of certain states.
“We cannot waste any additional days if we are to have sufficient time for players to travel to spring training, conduct COVID-19 testing and education . . . conduct a spring training of an appropriate length, and schedule a 76-game season that ends no later than Sept. 27,” deputy commissioner Dan Halem wrote to the union Monday in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. “While we are prepared to continue discussion past Wednesday on a season with fewer than 76 games, we simply do not have enough days to schedule a season of that length unless an agreement is reached in the next 48 hours.”
The Players Association has yet to formally reject the proposal, but both sides already had the sense by Monday afternoon that this attempt also would fail. The union hasn’t budged from its demand for full amount of prorated salaries — something they believe is ironclad from the March 26 agreement and critical given the health risks of returning to the field. Another key addition to this proposal is the requirement of a liability waiver, signed by players, to free clubs from any health-related legal penalties, a major concession despite a 67-page pandemic operations manual designed to keep everyone safe.
As Halem suggested, the longer these negotiations drag on, the shorter the season gets, and MLB is probably pushing for a resolution — one way or the other — by the end of this week. MLB started these return-to-play talks with an 82-game schedule that included sliding-scale salary reductions — the most drastic cuts for the highest-paid players — and that was immediately rejected by the union. The Players Association countered with a proposal that featured 114 games, expanded playoffs, deferred money if the postseason were canceled and the opportunity for offseason events, like an All-Star Game and Home Run Derby.
After rejecting that last Wednesday, MLB initially signaled there would be no follow-up proposal as commissioner Rob Manfred intended to start having internal discussions with owners on a shortened season. Instead, MLB made another pitch Monday to the union, but it seems destined to produce the same result. If these negotiations result in a dead end, Manfred could simply proceed with a season without the union’s approval, as he is empowered to do under the March 26 agreement. In that scenario, the owners would decide on a number of games that is “economically feasible” — around 48 or so — and pay the players on a full pro-rata basis.
* 76-game regular season.
* Guarantee of 50% of players' prorated salaries.
* 75% of prorated salary if postseason is completed.
* Expand playoffs from 10 to 16 teams.
* Eliminate draft-pick compensation for free agents for a year.