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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

MLB's sliding-pay proposal for return is how the negotiation game is played

Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during the Major League

Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during the Major League Baseball winter meetings Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, in San Diego. Credit: AP/Gregory Bull

Union chief Tony Clark has been adamant about no additional pay cuts for the players in order to get this baseball season underway.

On Tuesday, MLB presented Clark’s union an economics proposal that includes a significant reduction in salaries, albeit on a sliding scale.

So you kind of get the gist where this is going.

But before everyone turns their attention to Orlando or Las Vegas or wherever else the NBA intends to host its bubble tourney, it’s important to remember one crucial element regarding baseball’s often turbulent labor relations.

This is how the sausage gets made for this particular sport. It’s never a pretty process, and to think the negotiations would be any different this time, even in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, probably was a bit naive on our part.

As the NBA, NHL and NFL smoothly cruise toward their respective starts or restarts in the not-too-distant future, baseball’s warring factions are doing what they always do in these situations: bruise each other up before settling on a reluctant peace.

The good news? MLB didn’t come with a revenue-sharing proposal for Tuesday’s summit with the Players Association, which considers that a DOA concept. What commissioner Rob Manfred did present, however, seemed to be only marginally better from the union’s standpoint.

This time, MLB’s pitch suggested a sliding-scale for prorated salaries, with the highest-paid players taking the biggest cuts and the lesser ones staying closer to whole, according to sources. So for an 82-game season, a player already would be receiving only half of his 2020 contract, and this plan would chop off another percentage, depending on where that player sits on the scale.

For example, Mike Trout, the sport’s top earner, was set to make $37 million this year. Cut that in two, and he’s down to $18.5 million for this truncated season, with MLB potentially looking to slice it in half again, knocking him to $9.25 million.

At the other end is someone like Pete Alonso, who was due $652,000 this year. He’s already down to $326,000 and likely wouldn’t be trimmed much more, going by MLB’s proposal, although the exact percentages weren’t immediately known.

A version of this sliding-scale plan already has been implemented by many teams throughout the league for their own front-office cutbacks.

The union’s reaction? One assessment: “Extremely disappointed.”

It’s not hard to see why. Sure, Trout would be pulling in about $9 million. That’s still a lot of money, especially during these brutal economic times. But on principle, he’s getting only a quarter of his 2020 salary to play a half-season while being saddled with legitimate health risk due to the lingering COVID-19 outbreak.

Trout personally could end up taking a hit of $27 million, and that pile of lost wages adds up quickly league-wide when you consider that 47 players were set to earn at least $20 million this year.

No wonder the union generously labeled these as “massive” pay cuts, but to MLB, this was merely a reflection of what the teams are shouldering, especially with no gate-related revenue anticipated this year.

“We made a proposal to the union that is completely consistent with the economic realities facing our sport,” MLB said in a statement Tuesday. “We look forward to a responsive proposal from the MLBPA.”

The union intends to huddle up first and has yet to schedule the next round of talks at the virtual table. MLB’s plan not only calls for sizable pay cuts but also could provoke some class warfare inside the union’s ranks, as the super-rich would be called on to sacrifice more for the greater good. Don’t think for a minute the players didn’t notice that wrinkle.

“Interesting strategy of making the best most marketable players potentially look like the bad guys,” the Brewers’ Brett Anderson tweeted.

So after observing this typical Cold War behavior, some might worry about seeing baseball played again this season. It’s a logical reaction. But what most people consider a take-no-prisoners rock fight, these guys call Tuesday.

Don’t lose faith just yet. Both sides are working toward a deadline that looks to be somewhere around June 1, and everyone involved realizes the critical importance of returning to the field. Nobody expected it to be finished Tuesday. That’s not how these negotiations work. Baseball doesn’t operate that way.

Instead, those desperately hoping for baseball get treated to the usual agita from all of this verbal sparring, with the two sides stepping on each other’s faces as they jockey for the high ground in the public eye. There won’t be a clear winner this time. But everyone loses if we don’t get games this year.    

New York Sports