by Steve Mancuso

MLB should have a labor deal soon

Much has transpired the past few days in negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA. The owners offered a 60-game season with prorated pay. The players countered with a 70-game season with prorated pay. Other issues were proposed, including a few that affected the 2021 season. National baseball writers were reporting their sources were saying a deal close to 65 games was on the way. That made sense.

That proved wrong, though. Baseball’s owners (or at least 8 owners who forced MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s hand) said they were done making offers. That left the players faced with a choice between the owners final 60-game offer and allowing the commissioner to set the schedule without a deal. It had been reported the players were scheduled to vote this weekend on that choice.

Then news broke Friday of positive virus test results for players, staff and family members. That forced MLB to temporarily close spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona (two states with significant increases in virus cases).

Both sides paused. Players said they needed a few days to evaluate the impact of the virus on health protocols. Yesterday, they postponed their vote.

But today, the players union changed its mind and prepared to vote. As the union was meeting, Manfred sent a letter to Tony Clark, head of the MLBPA, and made two important points. First, the owners were willing to modify the 60-game proposal and delete any provisions related to 2021. That meant no expanded postseason and no universal DH in those year. This was seen as a friendly move to the MLBPA because the union was worried if they agreed to the 60-game proposal, they would lose leverage over those 2021 issues while getting nothing in return.

Second, Manfred said because of the virus-related delay, training camp won’t start until June 29, leaving just 66 days to play 60 games and still end on the target date of September 27 to conclude the regular season.

There are still health and safety details to finalize, but the remaining differences aren’t viewed as major. The league agreed that players who are in high-risk categories or who have pregnant wives can opt out and still receive salary and service time. Other players can opt out but not receive pay or service time. That’s a compromise over what the two sides had been offering. Note for Reds fans: catcher Tucker Barnhart and third baseman Eugenio Suarez have wives who are pregnant.

Before today’s substantive adjustments, I thought the decision for the union seemed like a close call. But with the virus-related news about scheduling, the choice for the players seems obvious now.

The positives of the 60-game schedule for the players:

  • 60 games is more than 48-54 games likely with the commissioner choosing
  • The NL would use a DH for 2020
  • $25m in postseason revenue
  • $33m in forgiven share of $170m March advance
  • MLB participation in $10m joint fund for social justice

The positives of the default option of having the commissioner set a schedule without a deal:

  • Manfred would likely to choose the high end of the 48-54 game range to mitigate a players’ grievance claim
  • The players would still have the option of filing a grievance
  • No extra postseason games

The decisive new factor: If the calendar won’t permit playing much more than 60 games, it would be nearly impossible for the union to win its “best effort” grievance. The players are better off with the positives of the owners final offer and should accept the owners modified 60-game offer.

I’ll be shocked if the union doesn’t recommend the offer to its members now or if the members rejected it. There’s nowhere else to go.

One final word. The overall level of virus in places like Florida, Arizona, California, Texas where teams hope to reside and play is a key determining factor in whether it is safe enough to resume baseball. I understand why people say the return of sports “is up to the virus.” But that’s wrong. The virus can’t spread without one human passing it to another. The return of sports isn’t up to the virus. It’s up to us. We have to take the modest steps we can to keep its spread under control.

Assuming virus concerns can be allayed, it’s looking like baseball’s labor situation is rapidly moving to an agreement. The start of baseball training camp would be June 29 and Opening Day about three weeks after that.

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

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2 years ago

Great article Steve!!

2 years ago

I love baseball. However, the COVID numbers in states like California, Texas, Arizona, Florida, etc. are rising rapidly. According to the NY Times today new COVID cases have hit records in 12 states. Numerous colleges are reporting outbreaks among athletes. I think Clemson just reported 28 athletes testing positive. Five Phillies players and three staff just tested positive. I seriously question the wisdom of having a season this year even with empty stadiums.

Brian Van Hook
2 years ago

Now the union is going to vote (supposedly) today at 5 Eastern on the 60-game proposal. Vote already pushed back once or twice today. I’m really at the get-this-over-with phase.