Amid a labor standoff that threatens the 2020 Major League Baseball season, which has been put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday saw significant progress toward a potential deal that would clear the way for that 2020 season to begin. Commissioner Rob Manfred met with MLB Players Association head Tony Clark earlier this week, and Manfred released a statement saying the sides had a “jointly developed framework” for a season, and MLB has put a new season proposal on the table.
Some details have started to leak out through media reports. Here are the key takeaways:
- Manfred and Clark met face-to-face in Phoenix at Manfred’s request.
- Owners have reportedly made a new proposal to the players pursuant to that meeting.
- In that new proposal owners have reportedly agreed to pay players their prorated salaries, which had been a major sticking point.
- Players may have agreed to not file any grievance against MLB, which had been a major sticking point for the other side.
- The proposal also reportedly includes an expansion of the playoffs from 10 teams to 16 teams for 2020 and 2021.
- MLBPA has stated that no agreement has yet been reached.
After what seemed to be an intractable standoff, Manfred and Clark had a productive face-to-face meeting.
“At my request, Tony Clark and I met for several hours yesterday in Phoenix,” Manfred said Wednesday in a statement released by the league. “We 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. Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the Clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”
Following this meeting, MLB presented players with a revised proposal to begin the 2020 season, per multiple reports. According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, owners in the latest proposal have agreed to pay players their full prorated salaries and asked that the union agrees not to file any grievance in relation to the deal. If the grievance issue has indeed been shelved and owners have indeed agreed to honor the March accord in which players agreed to pro-rate their 2020 salaries based on the number of regular season games played, then those are two major hurdles eliminated. As such, it seems likely that players and owners will arrive at a negotiated agreement to start the 2020 season.
CBS Sports HQ analyst Jim Bowden reports that the league’s proposal is for a season of 60-something games. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, meanwhile, says MLB’s latest proposed season would start on July 19 or 20.
Likely, players would press to increase the number of games played since the owners in this agreement are getting significant give-backs — i.e., the expanded postseason and waiving of the grievance. The expansion of the playoffs was also another ownership priority, albeit one that required approval from the players. The players seem poised to approve the growth from 10 playoff teams to 16 for the next two seasons, and that of course increases the likelihood that the expanded playoff structure will be adopted permanently in the next collective bargaining agreement. This reported offer marks the first real movement on the part of ownership, and as such it’s cause for renewed optimism. Negotiations appeared to be over after owners made repeated proposals that in essence didn’t alter their position. Players, in turn, made repeated proposals that did entail significant concessions.
Largely, the dispute has been over the matter of player compensation for 2020, but the dispute is entirely one of ownership’s choosing. As noted, the two sides came to an agreement on prorated salaries, and in that same agreement players consented to allow Manfred to implement a season of any length in the absence of negotiated deal.
At some point, however, owners decided they didn’t want to abide by that agreement and insisted that players agree to additional salary reductions over and above the prorated structure to which they agreed, citing that most games will likely be played in front of empty stadiums. Players, in turn, refused on the grounds that salary for 2020 was already a settled matter.
Since owners’ prior proposals all sought to cut salaries to a very similar extent, the players announced negotiations were over and that Manfred was free to implement a season structure per the March agreement. “Tell us when and where” has been the rallying cry for players.
Given that Manfred had previously guaranteed with “100 percent” certainty that a 2020 season would be played, the expectation was that he would do just that. However, Manfred days later walked back that guarantee, likely in response to a block of owners willing to kill the season as a jab at players. That seemed to put the season in peril all over again.
These reports, though, suggests that further negotiations have taken place and are bearing more fruit than ever. Suffice it to say, it’s in the interest of all vested parties to make a season of some kind happen, at least to the extent that the virus will allow it to happen.