MLB and the Players Association would have difficulty reaching an agreement just because of their history of distrust and distaste and because they are navigating around those feelings during a pandemic.
But accentuating the problematic relationship even further is that the sides are not even in accord on what they actually agreed to in late March.
The sides continue to negotiate on health and safety plus rules to restart this season. But it is always about the money. MLB made an economic proposal last week with a sliding scale in which the highest-paid players would incur the largest cuts. The union hated it. The Players Association countered Sunday with a plan to play 114 games (32 more than MLB proposed) with no cut in prorated salaries. MLB hated it.
An MLB official briefed on the conversation Sunday says that the union did acknowledge that the March 26 agreement calls for further conversations about economic feasibility if games are played without fans. MLB interprets that to mean that there was an understanding that further cuts in salaries were going to be necessary without spectator-generated revenue.
The union says the March 26 document does not require players to take a cut from their prorated salaries, merely to have a conversation about economic feasibility. And the union does not trust the economic data MLB has provided to document why the owners need the players to take what would amount to about $800 million in additional pay cuts beyond what has been lost by not playing to date.
As a counter, MLB is at least considering giving the players their full prorated salaries, but dropping the regular season to 30-60 games. MLB believes the March 26 agreement empowers Commissioner Rob Manfred to play whatever number of games MLB wants as long as the players are paid their prorated salaries and it satisfies economic feasibility and health objectives.
For the finances, MLB could argue it would lose less money paying full salaries for fewer games. As for health, MLB wants to complete the regular season by the end of September, concerned that cooler weather could create another large wave of coronavirus cases. It is among the reasons MLB disliked the union call to play 114 regular season games through October and then hold the postseason in November.
The union would see the March 26 agreement as calling for both parties to in good faith try to play as many regular season games as possible. And would see dropping from an initial offer of 82 to lower would not be good faith. In addition, even if Manfred could unilaterally restart the schedule, the union would argue he cannot unilaterally impose health protocols. So if the players do not agree to that, then it would not matter what schedule MLB demands.
MLB then could try to argue that the union would be in violation of the March 26 agreement and go after concessions made in that document, such as giving full service time to players even if no games are played this year.
The problem is this all just continues to harden the positions on both sides. The best outcome for the sport would be reopening on July 4th weekend, which probably means reaching an accord by early next week at the latest. But if there are going to be 30-60 games or a regular season schedule through October then there is not actually a deadline yet to pressure these warring sides toward a settlement.
An optimist could see that the Players Association proposal Sunday in a meeting with their top two executives Tony Clark and Bruce Meyers and MLB’s top two of Manfred and Dan Halem had $100 million in deferrals as an olive branch to give MLB some short-term help with cash flow. That MLB is considering full prorated salaries even on a shorter schedule also could be seen as a concession.
For now, though, those items are cased in overall offers the opposite side deplores. There is not much budging. And it is hard to reach a new agreement with all the obstacles when there is still differing views on what the sides actually agreed to more than two months ago.
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