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MLB makes a new pitch to players: 76-game season and a smaller pay cut

A slow shutter speed and lens zoom creates a blur of the MLB logos. Owners have proposed a 76-game season for 2020.
Major League Baseball owners have proposed a 76-game season for 2020.
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

Rob Manfred made his name in baseball as the lead labor negotiator for the owners, an architect of 25 years of labor peace. Now, as commissioner, he might soon call off the 2020 season or order the players onto the field rather than strike a deal with them.

The latter option loomed large Monday, after the players’ union was enraged by the owners’ latest offer. Owners are angry that what they intended as a step toward a compromise was regarded as an insult; players are disgusted at a proposal they perceived would compel them to put their health at risk while potentially cutting their salaries even more than the owners had last proposed.

The owners proposed a 76-game season, but not at the prorated salaries on which players have held firm. Instead, the owners offered to pay 75% of the prorated salaries — unless a coronavirus outbreak forces a cancellation of the postseason, in which case owners would pay 50% of prorated salaries.

The players would make a collective $200 million more under the 76-game proposal than they would if the owners were to impose the 50-game schedule floated last week. In case of an outbreak, however, players could make $250 million less.

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The owners also proposed a 16-team postseason tournament — this concept, but without the play-in games — and offered to remove for this winter the draft-pick compensation that can depress the market for top free agents.

Former MLBPA executive Gene Orza can’t imagine negotiating with owners through Zoom, but that isn’t the only factor making current talks unique.

The owners are willing to better their offer, but they continue to present this choice: more total money, but at a discount to the prorated salaries. The owners say they must discount those salaries because fan-free games would mean less revenue than originally anticipated.

The players consider the salary issue settled based on a March 26 agreement that calls for prorated salaries for any games played this season, and they object to conditional postseason money that means they could be playing roughly half a season for 25% of their previously guaranteed salary.

The proposal Monday also included a revised health and safety protocol, with players asked to sign an “acknowledgment of risk.” The union considers that waiver a way for the league to escape responsibility should it fail to provide a safe working environment amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In addition, the owners agreed that any player certified as a “high-risk individual” may choose not to play this season and still earn his salary. However, the owners said any other player that chooses not to play would be placed on the restricted list and would forfeit his salary.

The players’ union could counter with an offer of its own, or the owners could impose a shorter season of about 50 games. So long as the owners pay the prorated salaries, that March 26 agreement also allows owners to set the schedule.

The players could argue the owners did not negotiate in good faith, but that would require a grievance that likely would be heard long after games would resume. If the players win, they would be entitled to retroactive compensation.

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For this one bizarre summer, let’s embrace the crazy with a 50-game Major League Baseball regular season, followed by a 22-team tournament.

As the NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer have announced plans to return, MLB owners and players have spent a month arguing about how baseball should do so. The owners proposed an 82-game schedule with a sliding scale of pay cuts; the players rejected that. The players proposed a 114-game schedule with full prorated salaries; the owners rejected that.

MLB also floated the concept of 50-50 revenue sharing for this season only, in part given the uncertainty of whether fans might attend games at any point this season; the players shot down that idea because of concerns over exactly what revenue would be shared, and MLB never formally proposed it.

The back-and-forth has taxed the resolve of fans and, at least so far, has unified players. When ESPN’s Karl Ravech reported the outline of Monday’s proposal, he labeled it in a tweet as a “significant move toward players demands,” to which St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty tweeted back: “significant moves how?”

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The league talked happily last month about its plan to resume spring training Wednesday. On Monday, the owners asked the union to respond to their proposal by Wednesday.


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