MLB’s and the MLBPA’s negotiations regarding the 2020 season are reaching a critical stage. MLB hopes to start the season in early July, which would mean beginning spring training 2.0 in mid-June, and time is running out. The two sides have about a week to work out an agreement on salary and safety issues, among other things.
In March MLB and the MLBPA agreed to prorated salaries in 2020, and the same agreement gives commissioner Rob Manfred the unilateral ability to schedule the season. That allows the owners to effectively hold the season hostage as they try to get players to accept further salary reductions. MLB proposed a sliding salary scale last week and the union is not planning to respond.
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, some MLB owners are “perfectly willing” to go with the nuclear option and cancel the 2020 season should players not agree to additional pay cuts. From Olney:
Sources say there is a group of owners perfectly willing to shut down the season, to slash payroll costs and reduce losses, and the disparate views among the 30 teams have been reflected in the decisions to fire and furlough. The Pirates‘ Bob Nutting used the shutdown as an avenue to suspend team contributions to employee 401K plans — savings best measured monthly in the tens of thousands of dollars rather than the millions that would actually be difference-making for a franchise probably worth at least $1 billion. The Oakland Athletics‘ John Fisher decided to eliminate the $400 weekly salaries of minor leaguers, which might save the franchise about the amount of the team’s unpaid stadium rental bill. On the other hand, clubs such as the Tigers, Padres and Royals demonstrated greater humanity, with the Royals’ John Sherman deciding to pay his minor leaguers.
To be clear, canceling the season over a money dispute would be incredibly short-sighted and do incalculable damage to the league long-term. Tens of millions have lost their jobs and have no sympathy for billionaire owners and millionaire players making less money this year. Cancel the season over money in these adverse times and the 1994-95 work stoppage will look like a minor spat.
The March agreement says MLB and the MLBPA will “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators,” and it is unlikely fans will be allowed into the ballpark this year. That clause allows MLB to ask the players to accept further pay reductions but it does not require a new agreement.
Max Scherzer, a high ranking MLBPA official, released a statement last week saying the players do not intend to discuss additional pay cuts following the sliding scale proposal. The MLBPA has requested financial information to understand why additional cuts are necessary and thus far only some information has been provided.
If the 2020 has to be canceled because it is unsafe to play in the middle of a deadly pandemic, and it would be very sad, but also understandable. Canceling the season over money though? That would be a travesty and, frankly, unforgivable. With any luck Olney’s report is nothing more than the owners bluffing.