Clock is suddenly ticking on MLB’s 82-game season proposal
A virtual meeting was set for Tuesday afternoon at which MLB would present its proposal to top officials from the Players Association concerning how to return the game to the field.
The expectation was that the meeting would begin at 2:30 p.m. with an MLB group led by commissioner Rob Manfred taking the union item by item through issues covering finances, health, amendments to the game and everything else that MLB has worked out with hopes of returning to spring training by mid-June and to the regular season by early July.
Those with history in negotiations between these sides say that the familiar pattern is that MLB will present and the union will essentially be in listening mode, with occasional questions or requests for clarification. The Players Association then usually does not respond at all, but rather gives a time/date that they will come back with more questions and/or a counter.
In addition, the history of significant negotiations such as those involving the collective bargaining agreement is that the sides try to gain momentum by tackling the easiest issues first.
If this pattern is followed here, then there will be no pyrotechnics in which union executive director Tony Clark firmly tells MLB that the economic proposal to share 50 percent of revenue with the players is a non-starter, as he has told reporters. MLB certainly will provide reasons why it feels organizations need the players to accept lower pay and — if past practice holds — the union will leave with the data before responding.
But this is tricky for a variety of reasons, including that this is an attempt to return from an unprecedented event. Also because of a ticking clock that will make it difficult even to spend too much time gaining momentum with the low-hanging-fruit items.
There is a lot of doubt that MLB could meet its most aggressive plans for spring training 2.0 in mid-June and a season beginning in the July 1-4 window. But if the goal is to try to have a deal in place to make that bold proposal happen, the sides have roughly 2-3 weeks to negotiate because teams believe they will need 2-3 weeks to put all new protocols into place and logistically regather for spring training either in spring sites or home stadiums.
The plan that MLB was to present to the union would have an 82-game season, a schedule in which teams only played within their division and the corresponding division in the other league and playoffs that would expand from 10 to 14 teams. The use of a DH would become universal and rosters would expand to 30 active with taxi squads up to 20 for in-season depth without minor league games being played and the sport would at least begin with no fans.
All of these changes will necessitate negotiating and give and take. But the large hurdles are going to involve the ability to show players that they, their families and the support staff necessary to put on major league games will be safe to return to playing with coronavirus still causing death in the country.
And the financial matter also is going to be difficult to solve. The union has stated that its March 26 agreement with the players guaranteed them a prorated portion of their 2020 salaries based on games played. MLB said the document says that a reconsideration of salaries must be undertaken if there are no revenues from attendance.
For now, both sides are portraying inflexibility on this issue. Whether that is rhetoric or entrenched positions that can’t be overcome will be revealed in the coming weeks. But after a wait with no idea when the games may begin again, the clock suddenly is ticking.
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