There will be Major League Baseball in 2020. Probably. There is an ongoing pandemic to navigate, but Monday night MLB announced that commissioner Rob Manfred plans to schedule a season after the MLBPA rejected the league's latest proposal. Manfred is set to unilaterally schedule the season per the March agreement and players will get full prorated pay.
"Today, the Major League Baseball Players Association informed us that they have rejected the agreement framework developed by Commissioner Manfred and Tony Clark," MLB said in a statement. "Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development. The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic."
Manfred is expected to schedule a 60-game season provided the two sides agree on health and safety protocols, and the players are able to report to spring training by July 1. MLB asked the MLBPA to agree to both conditions by 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Those are not small matters, but at least now the ball is rolling.
Close to three months of negotiating are over and while neither MLB nor the MLBPA come out looking like good guys, there are some clear winners and losers now that the 2020 season is expected to be played. Let's run them down.
Winner: MLB owners
Ultimately, the owners got what they wanted. They wanted as short a regular season as possible to cut costs, and while 60 games is not the 48 games it once appeared Manfred would implement, it's also not the 114 games (and later 89 games) the MLBPA sought. MLB gets a nice, short, cost-saving season while still having a chance to make big money in the postseason. Convincing the union to agree to additional pay cuts was never going to happen but it would've been a huge win for the owners. The next best thing for the league was a short season to cut costs, and that's what MLB got.
Loser: MLB owners
Yeah, the owners are losers too. They got their short season, but they also lost out on an expanded postseason and the associated revenue increase, ditto advertisements on uniforms. And there's the whole looming grievance thing. Also, MLB and the owners really didn't cover themselves in glory throughout this process. Their stance was "the less baseball, the better," and that is not the message the stewards of the sport should be giving. For whatever reason, fans are generally pro-owner. That was certainly the case during the 1994-95 work stoppage. Now? Not so much. The players had more support than at any point in recent memory. MLB and the owners will wear the labor battle for a long time.
Winner: The MLBPA
The union has taken a beating the last few collective bargaining agreements and, for the first time in quite a while, players stood up for themselves these last few weeks. They insisted on full prorated pay, which they received, and they're in position to file a grievance that could alter the sport's landscape. The MLBPA's grievance will argue MLB did not schedule as many games as possible, and the fact MLB wanted the union to waive its right to a grievance during negotiations tells us MLB is worried about it. The MLBPA could win damages and back pay, and/or gain access to league financial documents during the discovery phase. Also, the grievance is a massive piece of leverage heading into next year's CBA talks. The MLBPA could drop the grievance in exchange for a major concession on MLB's part.
Loser: The MLBPA
The union is a loser too. The MLBPA stood their ground and got their prorated pay, and the grievance could be a massive piece of leverage down the road. That's not nothing. The union did lose out on a piece of expanded postseason revenue -- MLB proposed a 50-50 split for all new postseason games -- plus the universal DH (more jobs) and a small portion of salary advance forgiveness. MLB estimates the total value of their final offer at 104 percent of prorated pay. I don't blame the union at all for being unwilling to take less than prorated pay -- once they give up full per game pay, it's gone forever, and the owners will seek salary reductions every time attendance is down or revenue falls short of projections (if you don't believe that, you simply haven't been paying attention to the way MLB operates) -- but they short season hurts their paychecks.
Winner: Fans of contenders
Congratulations, baseball fans, you will probably get to see your favorite team play baseball this season. I say probably only because we are still in the middle of a pandemic, not because the players won't report. Fans of contending teams are the big winners because they'll get to see their team make a run at the World Series. The Yankees have Gerrit Cole! The Dodgers have Mookie Betts! The Nationals will try to defend their title! That's all fun and good. We're not going to lose Cole's age-29 season or Mookie's age-27 season to the pandemic, among other things. Contending teams won't lose a year from their championship window now that baseball is set to return.
Loser: Pretty much all fans
Speaking as a baseball fan, these last three months have been awful. What started as a necessary pandemic shutdown morphed into a full-blown labor war. MLB and the MLBPA very publicly bickered about money (because that's what they do) at a time when millions are losing their jobs, and it is at best unbecoming and at worse abhorrent. These last few weeks have been extremely off-putting and I would blame no one for focusing their attention elsewhere when baseball returns. Worst of all, we'll do this all again next year, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires.
Winner: Impending free agents
To state the obvious, free agency will be a bloodbath this offseason. Teams have suffered enormous financial losses this season and those losses will be passed down to the players. That was going to happen with or without a season. At least now impending free agents will get to strut their stuff before heading out into the market. Stars like Betts and J.T. Realmuto were always going to fine, relatively speaking. Impending free agents like, say, Corey Kluber (hurt most of 2019) and James Paxton (back surgery in February) will get a chance to show teams they're healthy, and this won't be a lost season for players who bet on themselves with one-year contract this past winter (Didi Gregorius, Jake Odorizzi, Marcell Ozuna, etc.). This is going to be a brutal offseason for free agents no matter what. At least now players will have a chance to state their case and earn a nice contract.