MLB, MLBPA On The Brink of Pivotal Point in Negotiations

Chris Halicke

Major League Baseball and the Players Association (MLBPA) are in the process of putting together a plan that can salvage the 2020 regular season. It's a less-than-ideal situation that has forced a number of clubs to cut pay or even furlough employees as the baseball world stands idle amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Both MLB and the MLBPA are trying to work out a deal where neither side comes out in shambles.

The past several days have seen a growing sense of optimism as MLB and the MLBPA continue to hash things out. Players and club executives alike are beginning to share their optimism publicly, including Austin Hedges, the San Diego Padres' player representative for the MLBPA.

“Over the last 48 hours, it really feels like we’re getting some stuff done,” Hedges told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Monday. “I really do believe we’re to a point where a decision will be made. … I feel very confident it’s going to happen.”

"I'm optimistic, personally," Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said in a conference call on Tuesday. "I think it's pretty clear there's two major topics that need to be addressed sufficiently...but I'm optimistic that we'll play."

Everything regarding those two major topics — health and safety protocols and the economic structure of the season — is about to come to a head.

The health and safety of the players, coaches, and non-playing personnel is paramount in any negotiations between the league and the players union. MLB submitted its 67-page proposal of health and safety protocols last weekend, which included some significantly restrictive measures that caused some skepticism from fans and players alike. Some of those restrictions included no high-fiving, no spitting, and no use of smokeless tobacco or sunflower seeds. 

"We feel like with all the risk we are taking, we’ve earned the right to do things our way," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week. "For me, if you change the game that much, is it worth it at all?"

Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported on Thursday that the players union sent its response to MLB's health and safety proposal, which covered a wide-range of topics that primarily centered around COVID-19 testing.

As critical as the health and safety protocols are for a season to be possible, the main event of these negotiations will be how and if MLB and the MLBPA can come to terms on an economic structure that works for both sides. There's a firm belief among many involved in the negotiations that health and safety can be agreed upon. The terms regarding money are a bit more murky.

MLB and the players union agreed to terms on several critical economic issues in March shortly after the initial shutdown of baseball operations. Part of that agreement included the players agreeing to prorated salaries in the event of a shortened season. In the current proposal from the league, the length of the season would be 82 games instead of the standard 162.

MLB is now wanting to revisit the issue, claiming there would be too great a loss of revenue since games would initially be played without paying customers in the stands. Club owners thus approved a framework where player salaries are paid out of a 50-50 revenue split as a way to compensate for the loss of revenue. 

MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported on Thursday that the MLBPA expects the league's economic proposal early next week. If the proposal includes a 50-50 revenue split, the players are expected to reject it.

Super agent Scott Boras told Sports Illustrated that he's urging his clients to reject the proposal and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told The Athletic that a revenue split is a "non-starter" and “the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis.”

Next week could potentially be unpleasant and could see pessimism rise as the league and the players union begin discussions regarding money. It will likely be the most pivotal week thus far and will truly tell us if a season is salvageable.

For the sake of baseball, the two sides will need to come to an agreement swiftly. The last thing the game needs is another war over money.

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