The state of negotiations for a 2020 Major League Baseball season is a disaster, with Rob Manfred backtracking on Monday from last week’s assertion of “100 percent” confidence that there will be pro baseball in America this year, and the MLBPA asserting that management is negotiating in bad faith.
That claim has been borne out fairly clearly in the way that MLB has made basically the same offer, over and over again, throughout the process. It came into even clearer focus on Monday, though, with the leak of a letter from management negotiator Dan Halem to his union counterpart, Bruce Meyer, which USA Today reported revealed “several major league players and coaches have tested positive for COVID-19.”
The letter makes reference to “several 40-man roster players and staff” having tested positive, and claims that these results have “increased the risks associated with commencing spring training in the next few weeks.”
There have been more than 2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with another 18,307 added to the tally on Monday. Among a group of more than a thousand players and coaches, it would be stunning if there weren’t “several” cases of the disease. It also would be naive to think that this would stop being the case anytime soon, especially as states plow ahead with reopening in spite of troubling data.
The smart thing to do, from a health perspective, is to bang the 2020 baseball season entirely, because of how ridiculous the proposition is that it could be pulled off without infecting more people. It also may well be best for baseball to be able to move on to a clean 2021 season, while other sports’ attempts to resume their seasons this summer result in necessary changes to future campaigns.
But that has nothing to do with connecting recent positive tests of major leaguers to a further delay of this season, if that’s the plan. It would be another month from now before baseball season starts, by which time most, if not all, of those who currently have coronavirus would be recovered and ready to play.
Instead, management is crying crocodile tears about the pandemic necessitating not only starting the season later but ending it as soon as possible.
“We believe it presents a heightened and unnecessary health risk to your membership to play deeper into the Fall,” Halem wrote in his letter.
So, by MLB’s figuring of things, it’s not safe to get back to baseball now, and it won’t be safe to have a regular season that ends after the last week of September, but somewhere in between, there’s a magic window where playing a season of 50 or so games will be just fine.
That notion has no grounding in reality, but it’s the one MLB is pushing because they can’t say what they really mean, which is that the league is unwilling to budge from its fixed financial plan of paying players around one-third of what they were initially contracted to make this season — a plan that is particularly farcical after news broke of a new billion-dollar TV deal.
The only way to get where MLB wants to go with the prorated pay that was agreed to in March (and that the MLBPA rightly refuses to budge from) is to play around one-third of a season. That was true last week, and it’s true today, regardless of how concerned the league wants to act about a predictable number of positive tests of people who would be recovered from the virus by the time play actually begins.
That March agreement the MLBPA is sticking with also provides for Manfred to be able to unilaterally determine the length of the season. All that’s happening now is MLB delaying until it’s more reasonable to set forth a season of 50-60 games, because there are going to be positive tests in another couple of weeks, and for who knows how long after that. The magic window doesn’t exist, but once management sees it opening, they’re still going to try to squeeze their way through.