The negotiations over playing baseball again this year have boiled down to a high-stakes game of chicken between the owners and players.
Union chief Tony Clark let it be known Thursday night that his side has no intention of blinking first when it comes to players’ salaries for a truncated season.
Clark called MLB’s plan of proceeding unilaterally with a 50-game season a “threat” in response to the union proposal that was rejected Wednesday. So after speaking Thursday with the union’s executive board, as well as more than 100 players on a conference call, Clark didn’t deliver a counterproposal. He launched a counterattack to smack away MLB’s repeated attempts at cutting compensation.
“The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well,” Clark said in a statement. “The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.”
“Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.”
Clark has been consistent in saying the players are unified in wanting their prorated salaries after losing 50% of their contracts when the season’s first half was wiped out. MLB was at first resistant to the demand, claiming a discrepancy in the March 26 agreement, but has since expressed a willingness to do so — only by slashing the number of games to significantly chop down that compensation.
So after commissioner Rob Manfred rejected the union’s only proposal for a 114-game season, running from June 30 to Oct. 31, he informed the Players Association there would be no counter — and MLB would commence internal discussions on starting the season.
The union offered a two-year deal for expanded playoffs, deferment of salaries if the postseason were canceled and also the opportunity for more events, like an offseason All-Star Game and Home Run Derby.
But the 114-game season was a non-starter, rendering everything else moot and prompting Manfred to extend the stalemate. Under the March 26 agreement, Manfred is empowered to simply make a schedule on his own, thus controlling what the players can earn in prorated salaries without a negotiation.
“In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love,” Clark said. “But we cannot do this alone. Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon (in March).
“This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward . . .Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless the players agree to further salary reductions.”
Clark maintains the topic of player compensation is closed, having been settled by the March agreement. So for now that appears to be a dead end MLB insists that it needs to wrap up the entire season, including playoffs, by the end of October, in order to avoid a second wave of coronavirus wiping out the most profitable part of the schedule.
MLB’s deputy commissioner Dan Halem relayed those concerns to the union Wednesday in a letter obtained by the Associated Press. Halem also cited the league’s own medical advisor for the COVID-19 warning.
“Based on that position, the positions espoused in your counter-proposal, the significant health risk of extending the regular season past September, and the fact that we have missed our June 1 deadline for resuming spring training by June 10, we do not have any reason to believe that a negotiated solution for an 82-game season is possible,” Halem wrote in the letter.
For the Players Association, the number of games is critical. Of course, MLB would be willing to play significantly more than 50 if the union agreed on further salary reductions - as in last week’s sliding-scale model, which the Players Association angrily rejected.
While Manfred can act alone to start the season, there are significant benefits to an agreement, aside from merely having the players’ willful consent. MLB needs the union’s approval for the expanded playoffs, which would generate more than $800 million in revenue. The Players Association already offered that (for two years) as part of their first proposal, so it’s clearly on the table when, if ever, these two sides resume negotiations.