MLB owners reportedly made a major shift in their negotiations with players on the structure of a 2020 season on Monday. ESPN's Jeff Passan reports that MLB is now willing to honor the March accord in which players agreed to prorate their 2020 salaries based on the number of games played but are also angling for a much shorter regular season -- in the neighborhood of 50 games, per Passan.
"Major League Baseball intends to propose a shorter season in which they would pay players a full prorated share of their salaries, sources told ESPN. The league believes the late March agreement allows it to set the schedule, and that this would fulfill players' pro rata desire."
Elsewhere, Jon Heyman notes that commissioner Manfred as part of that March agreement can unilaterally impose a regular season of any length so long as prorated salaries are paid and so long as bargaining has been deemed "good faith" in nature.
Throughout recent negotiations, owners had been insistent that players agree to further lower salaries in response to the strong likelihood that fans will not be in attendance for at least part of the 2020 season, the start of which has been delayed because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Players consider the matter of compensation to be settled since, as noted, in March they agreed to prorated salaries. MLB, however, saw in that agreement the latitude to reopen negotiations.
Owners initially leaked to the public a plan in which they would split certain game-day revenues with players even though there was never any chance players would agree to such an arrangement. Then owners formally proposed salary reductions that would hit the highest-paid players the hardest. The union (MLBPA) countered by. While that was counter to the owners' initial insistence on not paying prorated wages, MLB may be ready to abandon that demand
If that's indeed the case, then the number of games in the regular season appears to be the last major sticking point. Owners had initially proposed something along the lines of an 82-game regular season, so don't be surprised if the final figure winds up in that range. Doing so would amount to a significant loss at the bargaining table for owners, given their recent demands and positions. Since a great deal of the national television revenues are tied to the postseason, the emphasis from the standpoint of management will be holding that postseason as soon as possible -- so as to reduce the chances of the season being scuttled by a second COVID-19 outbreak in the fall -- and for as long as possible. As has been credibly rumored throughout, an expanded playoff field seems highly likely.
Most important, though, Passan's report suggests a potential step forward in negotiations and the clearest sign yet that an agreement is likely.