The negotiations are by no means finished, but talks between Major League Baseball owners and players about starting up the 2020 season skidded off the road Wednesday.
Major League Baseball rejected the players’ pitch of playing a 114-game schedule and, without offering a counterproposal, will focus on implementing a regular season as short as 50 games, according to an industry source.
‘‘We do not have any reason to believe that a negotiated solution for an 82-game season is possible,” deputy commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a letter Wednesday to chief union negotiator Bruce Meyer that was obtained by the Associated Press.
“You confirmed for us on Sunday that players are unified in their view that they will not accept less than 100% of their prorated salaries, and we have no choice but to accept that representation,” Halem wrote. “Nonetheless, the commissioner is committed to playing baseball in 2020. He has started discussions with ownership about staging a shorter season without fans.”
Halem also wrote “we stand ready to discuss any ideas you may have that might lead to an agreement on resuming play without regular fan access in our stadiums.”
Since the union is expected to react in a fashion that politely can be termed negative, Wednesday’s development is a large step backward in talks that had been going forward with baby steps as the sides tried to maintain their economic interests in the face of a global pandemic and racial unrest sweeping across the country.
Besides not wanting to incur excessive losses because games would be played in empty ballparks, the owners are also interested in a shorter season that can be played to its end quickly enough so that a revenue-rich postseason could also be completed. A shorter regular season would increase the chances that play would not be interrupted by a second wave of COVID-19.
The sides are more or less on the same page when it comes to health and safety protocols, including an agreement on a regional setup that will minimize travel.
However, two players from the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball tested positive this week, another reminder of the inherent risks of playing through a pandemic.
There is still time for talks to get back on track, but both sides agree that the clock is ticking more swiftly if a late June or early July start is to happen.
The move by the owners Wednesday also stems from their unwillingness to bear all of the losses from playing games without ticket-buying fans, as well as the players’ unwillingness to accept pay cuts less than 100 percent of their prorated salaries.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the owners are not going to send a counterproposal but will begin investigating ways to implement a season between 50 games and the 82 the owners initially presented to the players.
At the heart of the matter about length of season is the pay rate for each game.
The way MLB sees it, the only way it can shoulder all the losses and meet that 100 percent prorated salary threshold of the players would be to play an approximately 50-game season.
In a 50-game season, which represents roughly 30 percent of a normal regular season, Player X, who has a 2020 salary of, say, $10 million, would make $3 million if he were to receive 100 percent of his annual salary.
The players’ proposal of 114 games marks roughly 70 percent of a normal season, meaning that same Player X would make $7 million.
Initially, MLB presented players with an 82-game proposal, roughly half a season, but only if the players accepted a 60 percent discount on their already prorated salaries.
In that scenario, Player X would receive 60 percent of $5 million, or $3 million — the same amount the player would make in an approximately 50-game season.