The chances of a 2020 baseball season were revived on Wednesday with a new proposal from the owners.
But without yet hearing back from the players, and knowing there’s still substantial ground to cover, especially with regard to the number of games to be played in the regular season, it would be foolhardy to assume that reaching a deal is a sure thing.
Given that the sides were at a stalemate and engaged in a war of words as recently as this weekend, the best way to view the state of the latest talks would be to prepare for some turbulence. If a deal is to be reached, it will take some effort and strain to get there.
According to an industry source, Major League Baseball’s latest offer is for a 60-game regular season that would begin on July 19 or 20, with players receiving full prorated pay, playoffs expanding to 16 teams this year and next, and the players waiving their right to file a grievance.
The full prorated pay is what separates this offer from all that have preceded it, which is why it has the best chance yet of passing union muster.
For the first time, the owners are adhering to the March 26 agreement that players would be paid their full prorated salaries.
Before the latest offer, the owners were mulling a 48-54-game season, the most games they were willing to schedule without asking the players to take a pay cut.
If there’s a snag to be seen on the near horizon, however, it would be with another component to the March 26 agreement, the one that said the sides have to make an attempt to play as many games as possible.
The owners’ proposals have been on a steady decline — from 82 games to 76, to 72 just four days ago, and now 60 — while the players started at 114, and their last proposal, made a week ago, was 89.
The more games played, the more players make. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake if the season lasts 60 games, or 70 or 82. The owners have been saying all along they can’t afford the revenue hits they’ll take by playing games in empty ballparks. The players have been grumbling that the owners have been stalling in order to make the window for a possible regular season as short as possible. We’ll know from the players’ response to this new proposal deal just how impressed they are with the increase in the number of games.
When news of the proposal first broke, one report said that the union had already agreed to waive its right to a grievance, a report that one industry source said was “flatly and utterly false.”
The Players Association also went out of its way to squelch a report that an agreement in principle had been reached, tweeting, “Reports of an agreement are false.”
Reports of an agreement are false.— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) June 17, 2020
The new proposal came after commissioner Rob Manfred asked Players Association executive director Tony Clark if he could visit Clark in Arizona so that the two could address their many differences.
The two met face to face Tuesday, and spoke again Wednesday, after which Manfred flew back to New York.
The initial reaction from the union to pump the brakes about a deal being reached was a reminder of the still-testy and tenuous relationship between the sides, as well as the lingering questions about whether the continued presence of COVID-19 will slow or derail any deal.
Manfred issued a statement that he and Clark “left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective constituents.
“I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today,” Manfred said. “Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”
Manfred and Clark have been locked in increasingly harsh negotiations over how and when the 2020 season, which was indefinitely delayed because of the pandemic in the middle of spring training, can start.
The sides have been deadlocked over compensation and also have not cleared all the hurdles regarding health protocols that will need to be in place for the players and surrounding personnel to return to work safely.
On Monday, Manfred executed a sudden U-turn in his optimism about the season’s prospects, just days after expressing “100 percent” certainty there would be a season.
His turnaround came after a weekend in which the union withdrew from negotiations, describing them as “futile” after owners continued to call for pay cuts on top of already reduced prorated salaries.
When the owners sensed the union would file a grievance, the situation entered its darkest hours.
In a statement Saturday, Clark asked Manfred to “tell us when and where” to report.
“When and where” has become somewhat of a meme on social media, with players repeatedly tweeting their readiness to get the season going.
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.