The start of the 2020 season is on hold because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but MLB and the Players' Association (MLBPA) are hoping to get an abbreviated regular season underway by early July. For his part, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred stated his belief that there will be a 2020 season during a Thursday night appearance on CNN. Any timeline for restarting the season will, in large measure, depend upon the trajectory of the virus, but another potential obstacle is that owners and players must agree to a labor structure for the season. 

"I think that whenever there's a discussion about economics publicly people tend to characterize it as a fight," Manfred told CNN. "Me personally, I have great confidence that we'll reach an agreement with the Players' Association, both that it's safe to come back to work and work out the economic issues that need to be resolved."

The owners' in their most recent proposal floated the idea of a 50-50 revenue split between teams and players. MLBPA head Tony Clark balked at that because players in March already agreed to prorate their salaries downward based on the length of the season. The players view that agreement as the end of the matter insofar compensation for 2020 is concerned. MLB, however, believes they have the standing to revisit the issue of player pay now that fans will likely not be in attendance for at least much of the season, and thus teams will be missing out on gate receipts and in-stadium sales. 

On another level, this would represent a major departure for MLB's pay structure. Unlike a number of other professional sports leagues, MLB players have never had their salaries tied to league revenues. When MLB enjoys boom times, as the league almost typically does, the players don't receive money over and above their contracts just because cash is flowing in. So now owners want a revenue split just because the 2020 season figures to be one with compromised revenues.

Those are significant obstacles to an agreement, depending on how entrenched the two sides are in their current positions. The other complicating factor is that there isn't much time for back and forth. If an early July Opening Day is to be realized, then spring training will need to be restarted by the middle of June at the latest. That means a tight timeline for some complicated and perhaps contentious negotiations. All that said, Manfred at least outwardly is expressing optimism. 

The incentives are certainly there on both sides, and that may be the root of said optimism. Players, of course, want to play and be paid, and according to Manfred owners are projecting losses of around $4 billion if a season isn't played. As is typically the case, whoever is the least desperate may wind up getting a deal that tilts in their favor.