The inherent advantage that Major League Baseball has in any labor battle is that players’ salaries are public and much higher than yours, while the teams do not have to open their books.
So, when MLB comes up with a financial plan for an abbreviated 2020 season in which every player would make at least $262,000, as reported by ESPN, and the MLBPA is “very disappointed,” as reported by Evan Drellich of The Athletic, people see the players as greedy. Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s can stop paying minor leaguers entirely, furlough some workers and cut others’ salaries, and even though the team is owned by billionaire John Fisher, well, that’s just a business doing what it has to do, isn’t it?
The league and the MLBPA agreed in March that players would be paid 2020 salaries on a prorated basis, determined by how many games wound up being played this year. While there was at least some understanding that the agreement might be subject to further negotiation if empty stadiums were going to be part of the equation, the prologue to this round of bargaining was MLB trying to work the refs in the media, while this proposal looks like one designed to splinter the union.
That’s because, on its face, this plan is particularly onerous to the highest-earning players. Jon Heyman offered the breakdown on that: a player making the league minimum would get 91.9% of his prorated salary, while a player making $35 million (there are six players with contracts calling for that much this year) would get 44.3% of their prorated pay.
As hard as it is to sneeze at the $7.84 million that a $35 million player would get, the 44.3% is still a cut from the 50% reduction that every player is going to take as part of the previously negotiated deal. The phrase “of his prorated salary” does a lot of heavy lifting, making it appear that players at the low end are only being asked to sacrifice 8% of their salary, when in fact they’re being asked to give up 53.5% of what they originally had coming this year — in a career where the window of opportunity to earn money is short. For those players at the top of the pay scale, it’s a 77.6% pay cut for the year — on contracts that were supposed to be guaranteed.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers on Tuesday announced that they are avoiding furloughs and layoffs in the organization by instituting pay cuts for employees making $75,000 or more. Those cuts will be tiered so that the highest earners in the Los Angeles front office see their paychecks slashed by 35%.
Those cuts in the Dodgers organization take effect June 1, so if they remain in place through the end of the year, those highest-paid employees really will see a cut of 20.4% to their annual salaries. Meanwhile, the ask to the players is that, while risking their health and the health of their families in order to keep this moneymaking operation making money… is a pay cut of somewhere between 53.5% and 77.6%.
Notice how when the players are asked to give up more money, it’s reported in a way that makes it look like they’re giving up less than they’d really be giving up, while when the front office takes a pay cut, it’s presented as those executives giving up more money than they really are. That’s not to criticize the Dodgers, because unlike the A’s, they’re going to keep everyone employed, but it’s part of the equation of why public sentiment in fights about money tends to go against the players.
Another part, of course, is that playing professional baseball is a dream job. And for the highest-paid players in baseball, taking even a steep reduction in pay for one year wouldn’t make such a big difference in their lives — all of those guys are on multi-year contracts that pay eight figures a year, and they’re a small group. But this proposal also should be anathema to the players at the bottom of the pay scale, the ones for whom playing for less than minimum wage as “seasonal apprentices” in the minor leagues is a very recent memory. Having already been underpaid, and having already agreed to be paid half of what their guaranteed contracts said they would be paid, they should give up even more?
Why should those players give up more? So that the heir to the Gap fortune, who’s already cutting jobs and telling those minor leaguers to hit the bricks, can pocket an amount of money less than what he’d see if one of his stocks went up a quarter of a point one day? So that the owners of the Dodgers, who paid $2.1 billion for a team now valued at $3.2 billion, can continue the charade of everybody being in this together, when the reality is that Mark Walter could cover the operating expenses of the entire franchise for a fan-free year and not even notice a blip in his bank account?
All of this may be academic anyway, because who knows if it’s even going to be possible to get all those safety protocols in place that would be necessary for a 2020 season to happen? But for now, and with negotiations looming for the next baseball CBA, the owners are showing that their plans are the same as they ever were: try to split the players, and turn the public against them. The question is whether that move can work at the same time the teams are coming under scrutiny for how they handle things with the people they pay — or don’t pay — who aren’t players on the field.