Baseball might be almost back.
A meeting Tuesday night between MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and Players Association executive director Tony Clark yielded a new proposal from the league to the union on Wednesday — the most productive and promising stretch during the more than five weeks of these baseball restart talks.
MLB’s latest suggestion for the 2020 season includes Opening Day on July 19 and a 60-game schedule with players getting paid their full prorated salaries, sources said. The latter has been a sticking point for the union, and the league finally has relented.
As of Wednesday afternoon, a deal had not yet been reached, the union said in response to reports suggesting an agreement is close.
The Players Association was not expected to approve this version of the plan and could ask for as many as 72 games, which was part of MLB’s previous offer (albeit at lower pay). But this detente nonetheless has given the sides new momentum after a more than three-month shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Manfred confirmed the face-to-face meeting — for which he asked — and proposal in a statement Wednesday afternoon. And he suggested teams and players start getting ready.
“At my request, Tony Clark and I met for several hours [Tuesday] in Phoenix,” Manfred wrote. “We left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective constituents. I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary [Wednesday].
“Consistent with our conversations [Tuesday], I am encouraging the Clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”
Under MLB’s new plan, the playoffs would expand from 10 to 16 teams (eight per league) in 2020 and 2021, one of the few variables the sides had already agreed on.The NL would adopt the DH, reportedly also for both 2020 and 2021.
And the PA would waive its right to file a grievance over MLB’s behavior during these negotiations. That was expected to be another sticking point.
The grievance issue became a major one Monday when MLB told the union that the season would be canceled unless the players agreed not to sue the league. In an appearance on ESPN, Manfred said the PA intended to file a $1 billion grievance as soon as he unilaterally set the schedule, which he has the power to do under the parties’ late March agreement. Manfred also had been discouraged that Clark, who resides in Phoenix, cut off talks over the weekend, daring the commissioner to tell the players “when and where” to show up for work.
Before this summit, which was first reported by MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the talks had devolved into a nasty email exchange of letters between the two sides. The news of the turnaround came only two days after Manfred said he was “not confident” that a baseball season would happen, reversing course on the 100% guarantee he made just five days earlier.
The two sides primarily have been at odds over the number of games for a regular season and the rate of pay for the players. MLB’s previous offer, made Friday, included 72 games at a base 70% salary that would increase to 80% if the World Series is completed. The union has stood firm on 100% prorated pay, and Manfred suggested during Monday’s ESPN appearance that the two had reached “common ground” on player compensation, despite the other issues.
MLB and the union also will have to finalize the details of their pandemic-era health and safety protocols, the discussion of which has been much less contentious than financial topics.