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Baseball

A Timeline of Negotiations Between the MLB Owners, Players

It all began on Mar. 26, 2020.

Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) held a meeting on the original Opening Day for the 2020 season and developed a plan “that outlined how the sport would proceed in the coming months.”

ESPN MLB Insiders reported that the players and owners promised they intended to work together to bring Major League Baseball back at some point in the future.

“Before anything else, it addresses resumption of play and says both parties will work in good faith to ‘complete the fullest 2020 championship season and postseason that is economically feasible.'”

 

According to an ESPN article on the agreement, the MLB players also agreed with the owners on compensation for the 2020 season. The article refers to the players, when it says “their salaries for 2020 will be prorated.”

 

Now, this is the key to understanding how negotiations went for the next two months.

 

In March, the MLB owners and players agreed that players would be paid 100% of their prorated salaries, not anything less. Meanwhile, the owners argued that the two sides had left that issue open to re-negotiation, if it were decided fans could not attend games this summer.

At the forefront of the disagreement was the March discussion that promised fully-prorated salaries. There were two sides to this issue:

  • The players fought to protect their salaries for the 2020 regular season from attempts by the owners to convince them to agree to a smaller percentage or even a 50/50 revenue sharing plan.
  • The owners repeatedly offered a significantly shorter regular season, so that they could get away with paying the players as little as possible this year without the presence of fans filling the stands.

Negotiations officially began on May 12, but did not intensify until MLB owners began to ask the MLB players to accept pay cuts, on top of prorating player salaries.

 

Here is a timeline of those MLB negotiations which lasted from May 12- June 23, 2020.

 

May 12, MLBPA Head Tony Clark Responds to MLB’s First Offer

Here is a summary of the first “formal economic plan” the MLB sent to the MLBPA:

  • 82-game season
  • 14-team expanded playoffs
  • 50/50 Revenue Split for players and owners

In an interview with The Athletic, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark responded to the MLB’s first proposal to the players in mid-May. He did not waste any time saying exactly what he believed the league was doing to the players.

“A system that restricts player pay based on revenues is a salary cap, period.”

Clark did not mince words by calling this request an attempt by the league to saddle the players with a salary cap and to scrap their existing salary structure. Clark went even further:

“The fact that the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they’ve failed to achieve in the past — and to anonymously negotiate through the media for the last several days — suggests they know exactly how this will be received. None of this is beneficial to the process of finding a way for us to safely get back on the field and resume the 2020 season—which continues to be our sole focus.”

Clark emphasized that the MLBPA does not think that MLB asking players to take pay cuts this season is a favor for the owners because the lack of revenue coming in from gate receipts. Clark believes it is an attempt to establish a precedent for permanently lowering player pay in professional baseball in the future.

One of baseball’s largest figures, super-agent Scott Boras made a comment related to MLB’s proposal that asked players for a 50/50 revenue split. He said “You don’t privatize the gains and socialize the losses.”

Boras is pointing out that the Owners have always kept the lion’s share of “the gains” or profits during the last few years as revenues soared.

Now, during a down period for the sport, baseball owners are asking the MLBPA to give up its current salary structure for a drastic change, a split of this year’s revenue, which the Associated Press reports will drop from an expected $9.967 billion to $2.8 billion without fans.

 

Sunday, May 31, MLBPA Makes First Counter Proposal

The MLBPA’s counterproposal sent to MLB included:

  • 114-Game Season
  • Deferral of Player Salaries
  • Expanded Playoffs
  • $100 million advance during new spring training
  • All Players have the right to “opt-out of the season”

CBS Sports’ R.J. Anderson reported that the “key parts” of MLBPA’s counterproposal include every player having the right to opt out of participating. Those deemed “high-risk” would be eligible to receive salary, while other player would receive only service time.”

As of July 1, 2020, a total of four MLB players have opted out of the 2020 season. The first player to opt out was Arizona Diamondbacks’ starting pitcher, Mike Leake. Then two Washington Nationals, relief pitcher Joe Ross and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said they would not participate. On June 29, 2020, Colorado Rockies’ center fielder Ian Desmond became the fourth MLB player to announce he was opting out of the 2020 season.

The MLBPA’s counterproposal had major differences with the MLB’s first proposal. The league’s proposed 82 games and asked the players to agree to a 50/50 revenue sharing plan for the 2020 season. On the other end, the players asked for 114 games and no additional pay cuts.

 

June 1: Owners Agree to Pay Full Prorated Salaries

Negotiations took an important step forward when Commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners said they would uphold the March agreement where they promised to pay the players their full prorated salaries for the 2020 season. Nevertheless, the owners were reportedly “angling for a much shorter regular season.” Prorated salaries meant the players would be paid based on how many games they play, which would not bode well for the players or negotiations in a shorter season.

 

June 3: MLB rejects 114-game Proposal

The MLBPA sent a proposal to MLB that included a 114-game season, possible deferral of salary, and guaranteed compensation for players who choose to not participate this season. The league rejected the offer and declined to make a counteroffer.

Major League Baseball’s first proposal aimed for 82 games and to get the players to agree to a 50/50 revenue split. Just one week later, MLB was reportedly looking to cut the season’s length down even further, to the dismay of fans and players alike.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark responded to the MLB’s rejecting the Players’ proposal.

This opening part of Clark’s statement began by expressing that the players were less interested in prolonging negotiations than they were interested in returning to play as soon as possible. The MLBPA’ Tony Clark would go on to explain players had negotiated for “more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation.”

Meanwhile, the league replied it will shorten the season unless players agree to further salary reductions.

Clark’s statement made it seem like MLB was rigging negotiations. If the players rejected the league’s proposal for a 50/50 revenue split, then the league would threaten to shorten the season to force the players to “negotiate salary concessions.”

Neither MLB or the MLBPA were making progress at this stage of the negotiations.

June 8: MLB Makes 76-game Proposal

Major League Baseball made its second offer to the players, which included:

  • 76-Game Season
  • 75% pro-rated salaries
  • 16-team expanded playoffs
    • Players deemed “high-risk” for COVID-19 can opt out and receive both payment and service time
    • Players who are not at “high-risk” will not receive payment or service time for opting out.

At this point, MLB had offered proposals that included three different payment strategies.

First, they proposed a 50/50 revenue split, which the MLBPA refused to accept. Then they proposed a “sliding compensation scale” where the highest paid players conceded the most salary so the salaries of players earning less money would suffer less. The league’s latest proposal offered close to the first offers season-length but with 75% prorated pay.

CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa highlighted that each of these proposals ended in the same result: paying the players 33% of their total salaries they would have earned during an 162-game season.

 

June 10: Commissioner Manfred: “We’re going to play baseball in 2020, 100 percent.”

Manfred appeared on the MLB Network and told analyst Tom Verducci that he is “100 percent” confident in the 2020 baseball season being played.

 

June 12: MLB Owners Make Third Offer to Players

The owners sent the MLBPA another proposal, which offered to play 72 games and to pay the players 70% of their prorated salaries during the regular season. However, they tried to sweeten the deal by offering to pay 80% of the players salaries if the post-season gets completed.

 

June 13: MLBPA Rejects League’s Latest Proposal

The MLBPA rejected the league’s latest proposal, which called for a 72-game season and declined to send a counteroffer to the league. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark made another public statement.

“In recent days, the Owners have decried the supposed unprofitability of owning a baseball team and the Commissioner has repeatedly threatened to schedule a dramatically shortened season unless the 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 season possible.”

At this point, it was clear the owners were not including 100% prorated salaries in their proposals and thus ignoring the MLBPA’s requests for that be fulfilled.

The MLBPA’s statement closes with a message to MLB: “It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile. It’s time to get back to work. Tell us where and when.”

June 15, Manfred Takes Back “100 Percent” Statement

Just five days earlier, Commissioner Manfred appeared on MLB Network and guaranteed the 2020 season would happen. Then,  TV Host Mike Greenberg posed a similar question, asking if he was still confident the 2020 season occurring. This time, Manfred replied “Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m 100 percent certain that will happen”.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark responded with a scathing criticism of Commissioner Manfred’s comment.

“Players are disgusted that after Rob Manfred unequivocally told Players and fans that there would ‘100%’ be a 2020 season, he decided to go back on his word and is now threatening to cancel the entire season.”

 

June 17: Clark and Manfred Meet to Negotiate

In this meeting, Manfred conceded to Clark that he would ask the owners to make a proposal that agrees to pay the players 100 percent of their prorated salaries. In return, Clark agreed that the players “may agree to drop their pending grievance against owners and sign on to the expanded playoffs.” However, neither side accepted how many games would be played in 2020. That number remained up in the air between 60 and 70 games.

 

June 18-19: Owners Reject Players Counterproposal

The MLBPA sent the owners a counterproposal, which asked for 70 games, $50 million in playoff bonuses, and a 50/50 split of postseason TV revenues. The MLB owners want to get to the playoffs this season, because of how much revenue it generates.

 

June 21: MLB Players Vote ‘NO’, Manfred Imposes Season

CBS Sports’ Katharine Acquavella reported that the league made a final proposal to the players, which included:

  • 60 games
  • $25 million in playoff pools for 2020
  • $33 million in forgiven salary advances
  • Overall earnings for players of 104 percent of prorated salaries
  • Removal of expanded playoffs in 2021

Nevertheless, the MLBPA executive committee voted 33-5 against the owners’ proposal for a 60-game 2020 season.

Major League Baseball offered the players financial concessions they thought would persuade the MLBPA to agree to a 60-game season. However, the main reason the players did not agree was due to the season being drastically reduced to 60 games.

According to that same report: “Manfred gained the right to impose a season as part of a March agreement between the sides. He had resisted exercising that right due to concerns from the owners’ side about a potential union grievance, which would claim the owners did not negotiate in good faith and with the intent to play as many games as possible.”

 

June 23: Players Agree to 60-Game Season

After 42 days of negotiations, the MLBPA agreed to report to spring training camp by July 1 and to go through with the 60-game season. The regular season will start on either July 23 or 24.

It’s important to note that the 2020 baseball season start depends on the league’s public health and safety experts deciding if it’s safe to do so.

On ESPN’s SportsCenter, Buster Olney discussed how well the MLB players have been adhering to the health and safety protocols approved by the MLBPA and MLB owners on June 23.

“What I’m hearing from teams is, they’re getting initial push-back from some players regarding the health and safety protocol, some players are ready to go all-in, social-distancing and wearing masks, and other players are skeptical about doing that. Let’s face it, baseball has a better chance of pulling this off if everyone is pulling the rope in the same direction.”

CBS Sports’ Katharine Acquavella reported on June 30, which MLB teams have already had players test positive for COVID-19.

  • Philadelphia Phillies: seven players
  • Colorado Rockies: three players, 
  • Los Angeles Angels: two players
  • San Francisco Giants: one players

Acquavella also mentioned that three MLB teams, the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, and Seattle Mariners did confirm that either players or members of their staff test positive for COVID-19. However, these three teams would not specify names and whether those positive tests came from active players.

 

More questions remain: How will the guidelines MLB has set for players, coaches, and umpires affect how they play and act? What long-term impacts will the negotiations have on the league’s reputation?

It’ll be interesting to see how these answers unfold. But one thing remains clear: the players, coaches, and umpires must take the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 seriously.

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