There may have been a moment where baseball fans hoped that MLB owners wouldn’t use the cover of national chaos to act like the same dickheads they have always been. “Blind hope” would probably be the better term. That maybe with not as many, or no one, watching, the owners could back off their hardline stances without anyone noticing and feel like they weren’t buckling.
Reality is a hard slap.
Last night, the players union made a counteroffer to the “sliding scale” pay reductions the owners tried to float with a straight face last week. The players’ offer is a 114-game schedule that runs through October, with neutral site playoffs in November a likely possibility. As far as financial concerns, the players have offered salary deferrals on those making $10M or more if the postseason is canceled due to a second wave of COVID-19. That has been a real fear for the owners, who will lose out on the big money infusion of postseason baseball if there is a second shutdown. The players have also offered to expand playoffs both this year and next to provide more cash for the owners. The players also proposed another $100M advance during the truncated spring training in June.
Another make-good to the owners is that players who are not considered “high risk” but opt to not play would only be granted service time and not salary. Obviously, designating those who are “high risk” could turn into a truly ugly fight. And don’t put it past owners to accuse some players of saving themselves for free agency if they opt to just collect the service time by not playing instead of trying to protect their and anyone else’s health.
As you might imagine, the buzz was that the owners considered this proposal for the length of time it took to read it before shitting on it. And according to Jeff Passan, their counter-proposal proves just that.
A 50-game season would give the owners the chance to pay the players a third of their salary, which is what they’ve been angling to do from jump street. It’s also not a season, or anything close to one. Even in the NHL’s or NBA’s lockout-shortened campaigns, they were able to put together over half of a normal season. Playing less than a third of a normal season is basically pointless.
What the owners are doing is emphasizing, in a tantrum-like manner, that playing no games is preferable to them than playing games with no fans. So they’re going to throw the players the token offer of a causal vomit of a season. As Joe Sheehan points out here, are pitchers really going to deem it worth their time to ramp up their arms and bodies for seven starts? When the players balk at this, which they assuredly will, the owners can once again claim they wanted to play under what they consider “reasonable.”
The optimistic view, if you lean that way, is that 50 games is 32 games less than their original offer of 82, whereas the players offered 32 games above the original owners’ offer of 82, so everyone is going to meet back in the middle at 82. Which seems the long way round, but when has baseball ever done things the easy way?
What both sides have to realize is that time is becoming a ringing alarm at this point. If the players need three weeks to get ready (and they very well may need more), and they want to play at the beginning of July, it basically means this week there has to be an agreement. Given the icy rhetoric between the two sides, that seems somewhere around scaling K2 pants-less on the possibility meter.
The fear of a second wave of COVID-19 causing another massive shutdown is a real one, and the owners’ concern about the season spilling more and more into November only increasing the chances that a postseason wouldn’t be completed or even started is genuine. Playing only 50 games to rush to a postseason will be presented as dealing with that fear. It was rumored that the players, as something of a counter-balance to that, went beyond what the owners want in order to play some games for “free” — i.e. playing 110 games but get paid for 82. It feels, if you squint, that the players might be willing to negotiate to that with this 114-game offer as a starting point, and provide something of a cushion with expanded playoffs in 2021. It will certainly be a non-starter if the owners are sticking to the policy of losing less by not playing games at all than playing without further salary reductions. It feels like a jumping off point for negotiations, though. At least it did through the players’ eyes. The owners apparently are intent on taking their ball and going home.
The offer of deferred payments tied to postseason cancellation is an admission from the players that the owners wouldn’t be able to live up to their commitments should there be no postseason, but the proposal of paying interest on those deferred salaries was always likely to go nowhere with owners. They’re not going to pay any player more, no matter how far in the future, when they’re actively trying to pay less now.
In the meantime, the owners’ cries of poverty don’t seem to hold up to public shaming in one area. Maybe the union should try to expand on that.