June 2, 2020

After Players Union Proposes 114-Game Season, MLB, Wanting To Rip Up A Deal It Agreed To Only Two Months Ago, Is Considering A Short Season Of As Few As 40 Games

Major league owners and players have been trading possibilities for a shortened 2020 season, but the two sides may be farther apart than they were a month ago.

There have been proposals for seasons of 82 games (MLB), 114 games (Union), and somewhere between 40-60 games (MLB). The Players Association does not want to accept any additional reduction in pay (and certainly not before seeing the owners' financial books) and if that is the case, then MLB wants as short a season as possible so teams spend as little as possible on payroll.

There is also the matter of both sides agreeing on health and safety issues and then coming to an agreement with local, state, and federal medical officials. The period of negotiation depends on how long the season would be, but time is running out, in any case.

On May 15, MLB submitted "2020 Operations Manual", a 67-page document, to the Players Association. It proposed an 82-game season that would begin in early July.

The New York Post reported on the manual's contents. Here are some of their highlights, which likely give a good idea of how baseball would proceed if and when the issues surrounding health and money are resolved:
The Game

* Players on opposite teams should not socialize, fraternize or come within 6 feet of each other before and during the game, warm-ups and anthem. The same goes for players on the same team. "Do not sit" areas of the dugout will be designated with 6 feet of labeled tape and coaches as well as players less likely to participate (like starting pitchers not going that day) will be assigned to the unoccupied seats behind the dugout, where they'll also socially distance. ...

* All non-playing personnel must wear masks at all times in the dugout and all personnel must make all efforts to avoid touching their face with their hands (including to give signs), wiping away sweat with their hands, licking their fingers, whistling with their fingers or any similarly unsanitary acts. Spitting is prohibited (including but not limited to saliva, sunflower seeds, or tobacco) at all times in club facilities.

* Any ball that is put in play and touched by multiple players shall be removed and exchanged for a new baseball. After an out, players are strongly discouraged from throwing the ball around the infield.

* Pitchers should bring their own rosin bag to the mound, and batters should have their own pine tar and batting donuts that they bring with them to and from the on-deck circle.

* When the ball goes out of play, fielders are encouraged to retreat several steps away from the baserunner. Likewise between pitches. ...

* Fighting and instigating fights are strictly prohibited. Players must not make physical contact with others for any reason unless it's a "normal and permissible" part of the game action. Violations of the fighting mandates will result in "severe discipline."

* Using the indoor hitting cage is discouraged. Usage of saunas, steam rooms, hydrotherapy pools and cryotherapy chambers at the ballpark are forbidden. Teammates are not to high-five, fist-bump or hug while on team property, and showering at the ballpark will be discouraged.


* The entire team must stay in the same hotel; in the past, many superstars have stayed separately from the team. Members of the traveling party are prohibited from traveling or leaving the hotel for any reason besides going to the game in any manner without team approval. ...

* Clubs should try to book their teams on low floors of hotels in order to avoid riding shared elevators and ensure that hotels provide a private dining area for the traveling party, none of whom will be allowed to eat outside that area.

* No one from the traveling party can use the hotel gym or any other shared facility.

* The only acceptable methods of travel to and from the ballpark will be participants’ own vehicles or the team bus. That means no Ubers, taxis or mass transit. A sufficient number of buses will be provided to and from the ballpark to ensure everyone will have an empty seat next to him or her.

Medical Practices

* Upon arriving at spring training, all players and support staff must undergo a screening 48-72 hours prior to the report date. Temperatures will be taken with a contactless thermometer, either a saliva or nasal swab test will be administered and so will a blood test. Those tested must self-quarantine until they receive results, which should be within 24-48 hours. A negative test will allow a player to join spring training. A positive test would lead to the person being placed in self-isolation.

* Players will have their temperatures taken twice daily and screening for the virus multiple times a week. Any individual with a temperature more than 100 degrees or symptoms of the virus will be subject to immediate screening for COVID-19. ...

* Players will be provided thermometers to use each morning twice consecutively then be required to register the results in a database.

* MLB will not formally restrict off-field activities, but will encourage those who are part of the game to avoid areas such as crowded bars, clubs and restaurants and other activities that increase the risk of contracting the virus. ...

* If someone needs to get tested at an off-site medical facility, that facility cannot be a hospital or clinic that has been treating COVID-19 patients.

Spring Training

* Teams will be limited to 50 players.

* Teams that use a major league stadium should stagger times of workouts throughout the day to avoid overcrowding and use other facilities — such as, for example, nearby colleges — if feasible to lessen the number of players/personnel in contact at any one time.

* All exhibition games in Florida and Arizona will begin at 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. local time to account for the heat.
When that was released, Joel Sherman of the Post wrote:
In the best scenario, MLB is hoping to begin spring training in mid-June. That means getting an agreement with the Players Association no later than the next two weeks. Because to implement all the spring health/safety protocols and to get the players there will probably take another two weeks. And in the next two weeks MLB and the union importantly have to agree on how to pay the players, a contentious issue that is making groups that need to be cooperative, not that.
On Thursday, May 21, the Players Association delivered its response. It stated that as far as the health of the players and other team employees, government (local, state, federal) officials and medical officials, in addition to MLB and the Players Association, must agree on a set of health and safety rules before other topics, such as the length of the season and salaries, can be tackled. The union's response covered testing frequency, protocols for positive tests, in-stadium medical personnel, protections for high-risk players and family, access to pregame and postgame therapies, and sanitization protocols.

On Tuesday, May 26, MLB proposed a season of 82 games and presented its financial plan, which called for players making the least amount of money to earn a higher percentage of their normal annual salary. If an 82-game regular season was played, players making the 2020 minimum of $563,500 would receive around 93% of the prorated amount or $262,000. Players with the highest salaries would take a larger pay cut, up to more than 50%. For example, Gerrit Cole would have been paid $36 million this season, but his pro-rated salary of around $18 million for 82 games would be reduced by 44% to roughly $8 million. MLB's proposal had several tiers between the lowest and highest salaries.

The Players Association was discouraged, noting that the players — not the owners — would be risking increased exposure to a virus that has infected nearly two million Americans and resulted in more than 107,000 US deaths. The union indicated the two sides had sizable differences on health and safety issues. The union was already annoyed when it approached MLB's offer because a proposal had been expected two weeks earlier. The union believes MLB's delay was deliberate, to put public pressure on the players to agree to an owner-friendly deal amid the financial hardship of most Americans. Many players also viewed the MLB's proposal as an attempt to divide the union. Pitcher Brett Anderson of the Brewers tweeted: "Interesting strategy of making the best most marketable players potentially look like the bad guys." There also exists the possibility that some high-priced players would choose to sit out the season.

On May 27, Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer tweeted:
[T]here's no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions. We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there's no justification to accept a 2nd pay cut based upon the current information the union has received. I'm glad to hear other players voicing the same viewpoint and believe MLB's economic strategy would completely change if all documentation were to become public information.
Agent Scott Boras sent an email to his many clients, urging them not to, in effect, bail out the owners. He reminded the players that MLB had agreed to a prorated salary structure back in late March and now wanted to renegotiate that agreement:
Remember, games cannot be played without you. Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated. ...

If this was just about baseball, playing games would give the owners enough money to pay the players their full prorated salaries and run the baseball organization. The owners' current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks. This type of financing is allowed and encouraged by MLB because it has resulted in significant franchise valuations. ...

Owners now want players to take additional pay cuts to help them pay these loans. They want a bailout. They are not offering players a share of the stadiums, ballpark villages or the club itself, even though salary reductions would help owners pay for these valuable franchise assets. These billionaires want the money for free. No bank would do that. Banks demand loans be repaid with interest. Players should be entitled to the same respect. ...

Throughout this process, they will be able to claim that they never had any profits because those profits went to pay off their loans. ... Make no mistake, owners have chosen to take on these loans because, in normal times, it is a smart financial decision. But, these unnecessary choices have now put them in a challenging spot. Players should stand strong because players are not the ones who advised owners to borrow money to purchase their franchises and players are not the ones who have benefited from the recent record revenues and profits.
The union has firmly stated that it will not consider any additional financial concessions until the owners open their financial books for examination. No MLB team has ever done this.

On Sunday, May 31, the Players Association presented its counterproposal, featuring a 114-game schedule (June 30 to October 31), levels of deferred pay for players making eight figures, and the right of any player to opt out of the season.

Playing 114 games as opposed to 82 gives the players the opportunity to make a greater percentage of their salaries. The deferrals would protect the owners against a canceled postseason and the deferred payments, with interest, would be made in November 2021 and November 2022. The players would also receive an additional salary advance ($100 million lump sum) during spring training, on top of the $170 million payment the players negotiated in March. The players also offered two years of expanded playoffs, similar to what MLB wants.

It was reported by ESPN last night that MLB was considering playing a season of only 40-60 games if the players did not agree to further cuts in pay. But MLB has not officially presented any such proposal to the Players Association. Commissioner Rob Manfred believes the March 26 agreement allows MLB to schedule however many games it wants as long as players are paid their prorated salaries. MLB wants to complete the regular season by the end of September.

ESPN's Jeff Passan reported:
Players have held out for a full prorated portion of their salaries, based on a March 26 agreement with the league, and in an offer Sunday proposed a 114-game schedule that would cover 70.3% of their original salaries. A 50-game schedule with full pro rata would pay the players 30.8% of that number.
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark:
This is all part of the league's attempts to negotiate through the media instead of focusing on how to bring baseball back to its fans. ... We have an agreement on compensation that says clearly how players get paid in the event games are played — pro-rata. In fact, the league recently confirmed in writing that "we agree with the Association that, under the Agreement, players are not required to accept less than their full prorated salary." ... We have never denied that MLB has the ability to come back and try to persuade us to change that agreement based on their economic concerns. They've tried unsuccessfully. In fact, Rob confirmed yesterday that, "We can pay you 100 percent of salary right now."
The deadline for an agreement depends on how long the season would be. The fewer the games, the longer the parties can argue. But for an 82-game season beginning in early July, as the league proposed a week ago, players would need to be in spring training, Part 2, by the middle of June.

"The exact drop-dead, I don't know, but it has to be within like a week or so," one person with knowledge of the discussions said of an 82-game schedule.

The Post's Joel Sherman published an excellent column yesterday, suggesting the old canard of "greedy players" be retired forever. That won't happen, but in these times it's good to see more people acknowledging reality:
I think the players have a responsibility to help find a financial solution that allows major league baseball to be played this year. ...

I think the players are more than just the employees. They also are stewards of the game ...

Here is what I don't think: The players are greedy. That designation was tired when it was said about Babe Ruth and Sandy Koufax and Reggie Jackson. I get it you played baseball as a kid and think you would do it for free as a profession. You wouldn't. No one works for free.

You think the money would be better spent on nurses and teachers. Agreed. Redirect all you spent that helped make MLB an $11 billion industry last year to nurses and teachers. If there is less money in the game, players will make less. ... As a society we have decided to value this particular rare skill set. You and corporations paid the $11 billion. Owners gave roughly half of that to players, as they did pretty much every year before a pandemic. No one had a gun to anyone's head to spend it.

You think the players' salaries have priced you out of tickets. Except the Orioles and Tigers cut their payrolls by $100 million each from 2017 to 2020. Were either lowering ticket prices to reflect the savings and certitude of a worse product?

Add it all up and returning to the "greedy" player feels like wool uniforms — something that should have been retired long ago.

The owners have gotten used to winning negotiations, the last collective bargaining agreement for sure, with the minor leagues, with umpires, with getting caps on the draft and international spending. They have done this with a strategy more jackhammer than stiletto. This is what any business does — tries to get the most production for the least cost. ...

Players endure capped systems in either the draft or internationally at the entry level. They have to work through the minors, often for several years, making wages often below poverty levels. Those who reach the majors cannot seek an open market for six or, if their service time is manipulated, seven seasons (think those who have had their service manipulated trust owners right now?). In the first three years, teams can pay major leaguers whatever they want, usually close to the minimum. The next three to four years, the teams have an arbitration system that, yes, begins to pay players better, but within confines and without a free market providing true value in what often are players’ most productive seasons.

In recent years, analytic front offices have smartly — but coldly — figured out how to get similar production for less cost, lowering many bars for arbitration-eligible players and free agents. One of the strategies is to keep the pay down on one end with all of the rules, then say the player is too old to get real money when he is finally free. ...

Also, whatever a player earns, we all will know it. We have no idea what owners make, which is central to the union complaint. MLB is crying poor but the Players Association is dubious.


Jim said...

Welcome back! Thanks for posting the Sherman column. I was thinking that the dispute was one the rare, actual cases of "bothsiderism" (as opposed to the usual MSMers who call everything this in the "interest" of "comity" and "healing the nation"). Sherman made me re-think.
Fuck the owners.

allan said...

I'm enjoying seeing the "baseball will be dead forever if this season is canceled". And by people who should know better, people who should know that "baseball is dying because of X" has been around since 1850.

Wow. 3 weeks and 1 day between posts. That's a first.

allan said...

Maybe I can reveal a secret here, in this little corner.
I'm not really missing baseball. If it vanished today, I'd be fine.
The next question is: If baseball was being played, would I mind ignoring it? When Manfred puts runners on base in extra innings, I'll learn the answer.

GK said...

It will be a damn shame that the one sport where physical contact is just about optional will choose to kill of their season. While other sports are arranging to go to Disneyland and play. I understand that there are other issues than not having physical contact on the field, such as having a crowd in close proximity etc. But the fight in MLB is not about any of those issues.

Jere said...

My friend Chan asked me how me and my also-loving-baseball buddy Zack are dealing with no baseball. My answer surprised him.