So much for the middle ground. Major League Baseball stretched all the way to 60 games in its last proposal to the players, and that now appears to be the limit of owners’ financial elasticity. Or their egocentricity, which may be the only thing more fragile than the economic model they’ve described for their industry. Whatever the motivation, the league has opted to stand firm on its offer rather than respond to the MLBPA’s counter of 70 games.
“MLB has informed the Association that it will not to our last proposal and will not play more than 60 games,” read a statement from the union released Friday evening. “Our Executive Board will convene in the near future to determine next steps. Importantly, Players remain committed to getting back to work as soon as possible.”
The Major League Baseball Players Association today released the following statement: pic.twitter.com/XxRDSskBBT
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) June 19, 2020
There are really only two options at this point, with subsequent paths available depending on which way the players go. They could opt to accept the offer, which seems unlikely at this point given the way the negotiations have proceeded thus far. Or they could turn the league down and force Rob Manfred to move ahead with the implementation of a season of 60 games or fewer.
If players vote no on the famed 60-game framework deal as seems quite possible, Manfred is indeed planning to set the schedule for 50-60 games. So there will be baseball — unless the Covid numbers worsen to the point where it’s considered unsafe.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) June 20, 2020
A decision from the union is expected to come as soon as Saturday, with the strong potential that they prefer to have MLB set the schedule and open up an opportunity for players to file a grievance. While the March agreement did give Manfred the ability to implement a season of his choosing should circumstances require it, the argument from the union would be that the league failed to negotiate in good faith.
I’m not sure how easy that would be to prove, and history tends to favor the owners on such matters, but the players don’t have much to lose if they’re already being forced into an even more truncated season than is currently on the table. It would be an even more difficult battle if Manfred opts for 60 games at full pay, though it wouldn’t be surprising if the owners’ hubris had them seeking an even shorter season to save money.
The added wrinkle in the unilateral implementation of a season is that Manfred needs 75% approval from the owners, which means at least 23 yes votes. But as has been reported from multiple outlets, at least six and perhaps more than eight owners would vote against the league setting a season for fear of a grievance. Of course, the irony there is that scuttling the season entirely would almost certainly trigger a grievance.
It is still possible, however, that enough players could prefer to simply get back to the field under the parameters of the 60-game proposal that the union sees fit to proceed. More than just being tired of the fight, it’s possible there’d be a strategic element to such a decision. This pissing contest isn’t over by a long shot, so maybe the players would do well to keep a little something in the ol’ negotiating bladder for when the CBA expires after next season.
Further complicating matters are reports that members of Phillies, Blue Jays, and Giants organizations have tested positive for COVID-19 or have shown symptoms. Those teams’ facilities — two in Florida and one in Arizona — have all been shut down and the league is considering the mandatory closure of the other 27 sites in order to sanitize them. Since it’s unwise to let a crisis go to waste, the league could lean on this as a reason to further delay the start of the season and shorten the number of games that can be played,
For the record, that’s a decision that makes sense for the greater good of the league and the health of its participants. Speaking of which, it’s a damn good thing they never got a chance to implement that three-site spring training reboot, huh?
The players are committed to getting back to the field, the owners are committed to paying the players as little as possible while at the same time preserving their chance at those monster playoff TV dollars. Perfect conditions for the shitstorm to which we’ve all been subjected for the last few weeks. Feels like the hard stuff has already come down, so perhaps we’ll finally see a little sunshine peeking through this weekend.