MLB owners and players remain in a stalemate over the structure of the 2020 season, which has been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two sides had hoped negotiations would be concluded in time for Opening Day in early July, but that opportunity may have already been missed.
The current snag stems from the owners’ decision to revisit a March agreement in which players agreed to prorate their 2020 salaries based on the number of regular season games played. Owners insist the matter of salary is still open for negotiation in light of the likelihood that fans will not be in attendance for some or even all games this season. Players — again pointing to that March agreement — consider the matter settled.
Most recently, players proposed a 114-game regular season, but owners rejected it without countering. The next path forward may be for commissioner Rob Manfred to implement by fiat something like a 50-game regular season with prorated salaries, which he’s allowed to do according to the terms of the March agreement. Players are pressing for a substantially longer regular season, but owners are against the idea and prefer the emphasis to be on a full expanded postseason, ideally concluded before a possible autumn resurgence of COVID-19.
The problem for MLB is that they need the players’ consent to expand the postseason, and if they move to force through a much shorter regular season then players will likely use what leverage they have. That would mean not agreeing to the desired 14-team playoffs.
Via Ronald Blum of the Associated Press, the union’s lead negotiator Bruce Meyer wrote a letter to MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem on Friday that in part warned the league of just such a scenario — that players may block an expanded playoffs with neutral-site games if owners push through something like a 50-game regular season. Meyer wrote in part: “The league’s cynical tactic of depriving America of baseball games in furtherance of their demand for unwarranted salary concessions is shortsighted and troubling. Meanwhile, other leagues are moving forward with their plans for resumption.”
Players have thus far ceded the public relations battle to owners, who have periodically leaked documents and details related to negotiations in order to turn public opinion against the players. Assuming the players’ side is responsible for putting this letter in the hands of reporters, the union appears to be pushing back on that front.
Most fundamentally, owners want further salary concessions from players — even though they’re unwilling to prove their claims of financial hardship — and if they don’t get those concessions then they may make the regular season as short as possible. If, however, MLB acts unilaterally on such an essential matter, then they can hardly expect cooperation from players on other issues.