Saturday night, the MLB Players Association rejected Major League Baseball's latest proposal to start the 2020 season. The league proposed a 72-game season at 80 percent prorated pay on Friday -- the proposal included a scathing letter -- and gave the union until Sunday to respond. The MLBPA responded a day early and officially rejected the offer Saturday in an expected move.
Furthermore, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark issued a statement saying "it appears further dialogue with the league would be futile," and invited commissioner Rob Manfred to schedule however many games he sees fit.
Here is Clark's statement:
"Players want to play. It's who we are and what we do. Since March, the Association has made it clear that our No.1 focus is playing the fullest season possible, as soon as possible, as safely as possible. Players agreed to billions in monetary concessions as a means to that end, and in the face of repeated media leaks and misdirection we made additional proposals to inject new revenues into the industry -- proposals that would benefit the owners, players, broadcast partners, and fans alike.
"It's now become apparent that these efforts have fallen upon deaf ears. In recent days, owners have decried the supposed unprofitability of owning a baseball team and the Commissioner has repeatedly threatened to schedule a dramatically shortened season unless players agree to hundreds of millions in further concessions. Our response has been consistent that such concessions are unwarranted, would be fundamentally unfair to players, and that our sport deserves the fullest 2020 season possible. These remain our positions today, particularly in light of new reports regarding MLB's national television rights -- information we requested from the league weeks ago but were never provided.
"As a result, it unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile. It's time to get back to work. Tell us when and where."
A March agreement between MLB and the MLBPA gives Manfred the ability to unilaterally schedule a season of any length as long as the players receive full prorated salaries. MLB believes the March agreement allows the league to seek another round of pay reductions to account for games being played without fans, which the union has rejected. They consider the salary matter closed.
"If it is your intention to unilaterally impose a season, we again request that you inform us and our members of how many games you intend to play and when and where players should report," MLBPA negotiator Bruce Meyer wrote in a letter to MLB. "It is unfair to leave players and the fans hanging at this point. We demand that you inform us of your plans by close of business on Monday, June 15."
MLB issued the following statement Saturday night:
"We are disappointed that the MLBPA has chosen not to negotiate in good faith over resumption of play after MLB has made three successive proposals that would provide players, Clubs and our fans with an amicable resolution to a very difficult situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The MLBPA understands that the agreement reached on March 26th was premised on the parties' mutual understanding that the players would be paid their full salaries only if play resumed in front of fans, and that another negotiation was to take place if Clubs could not generate the billions of dollars of ticket revenue required to pay players. The MLBPA's position that players are entitled to virtually all the revenue from a 2020 season played without fans is not fair to the thousands of other baseball employees that Clubs and our office are supporting financially during this very difficult 2020 season. We will evaluate the Union's refusal to adhere to the terms of the March Agreement, and after consulting with ownership, determine the best course to bring baseball back to our fans."
The June 15 deadline is superficial -- neither side has the ability to impose a hard deadline, though each day that passes is another day games can not be played -- and more negotiations can not be ruled out. At this point it would be a surprise if the two sides came to an agreement, however. Manfred unilaterally scheduling a season is the most likely outcome.
MLB and the MLBPA have traded multiple proposals over the last few weeks but the players are the only side making concessions. They've proposed fewer games at full prorated pay each step of the way. MLB, meanwhile, keeps making the same basic proposal in a different form. They've proposed paying players roughly one-third of their full season salary each time. Here is a recap of MLB's proposals:
- May 26: 82 games with a sliding salary scale (roughly 33 percent of full season salary)
- June 8: 76 games at 75 percent prorated pay (35 percent of full season salary)
- June 12: 72 games at 80 percent prorated pay (36 percent of full season salary)
The June 8 and June 12 proposals are conditional. If the postseason is unable to be completed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the players would receive an even smaller portion of their prorated salaries. The MLBPA has proposed 114-game and 89-game seasons with full prorated salary and an expanded postseason in 2020 and 2021.
MLB has indicated (but not officially proposed) it will pay the players full prorated salary, but only for 48-54 games, or 30-33 percent of their full season salary. The owners claim they will lose money with each game that is played without fans and that a shorter season is the only way to avoid massive losses while paying the players full prorated salary.
Meyer's letter called out MLB's "underhanded tactics to circumvent the union" and called their negotiating approach "one delay tactic after another." The MLBPA appears to believe Manfred and MLB are repeatedly submitting the same basic proposal to stall until Manfred has no choice but schedule a 48-54 game season because that's all they have time to play.
Here are six other things to know as MLB and the MLBPA continue haggling over the 2020 season.
1. MLBPA has requested financial information
Last month the MLBPA requested documents supporting MLB's financial claims and those requests were only partially met. The union believes MLB has not proven its financial situation is as dire as the league has claimed, and they're unwilling to accept another round of pay reductions without evidence. As private businesses, MLB teams do not open their books.
"(Any) request for further pay cuts would be a significant challenge and would require full financial transparency (which we have not gotten) to even have a meaningful discussion," Meyer wrote in his letter.
2. The clock is ticking
Once the season is scheduled -- either because Manfred does so unilaterally or the two sides come to an agreement -- teams will need about 10 days to prepare their training camp sites. An abbreviated three-week spring training would follow. MLB wants the regular season to end no later than Sept. 27 to ensure the postseason doesn't extend into November. Based on that, spring training would have to begin no later than early-to-mid July for a 50-ish game season.
3. Expanded postseason is on the line
The MLBPA must approve an expanded postseason format and it is unlikely they would do so should Manfred schedule the season unilaterally. MLB has proposed as many as 16 teams in the postseason to help generate additional revenue. Beyond the schedule, the two sides must also resolve various safety matters related to the pandemic, as well as other on-field and roster rules.
4. MLBPA could file a grievance
Should Manfred unilaterally schedule the season, it is very likely the MLBPA would file a grievance alleging MLB did not negotiate in good faith and play as many games as possible. MLB would argue the union did not negotiate salary in good faith. A grievance could take years to resolve and one possible outcome is MLB paying the players a settlement, similar to collusion in the 1980s.
5. Meanwhile, MLB has a new television deal
Earlier on Saturday it was reported MLB is finalizing a billion-dollar broadcasting deal with Turner Sports. That deal will begin in 2022 and will not give teams an immediate cash influx, but it is guaranteed future revenue, which can help clubs borrow money to cover short-term expenses. MLB currently receives $350 million a year from Turner.
6. Another labor fight is looming
While getting the 2020 season started is the top priority, the current collective bargaining agreement expires in Dec. 2021, and the two sides will spend the next 18 months or so negotiating a new agreement. A work stoppage is not guaranteed but it certainly seems more likely now than at any point since the 1994-95 strike.