Monday, MLB owners agreed to a proposal in which they offered players 48 percent of total 2020 revenues, in an effort to get some sort of season going this year amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It didn’t take long for players to reject that idea, per Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic:
Said MLBPA executive director Tony Clark: “A system that restricts player pay based on revenues is a salary cap, period. This is not the first salary cap proposal our union has received. It probably won’t be the last.
“That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they’ve failed to achieve in the past — and to anonymously negotiate through the media for the last several days — suggests they know exactly how this will be received.
“None of this is beneficial to the process of finding a way for us to safely get back on the field and resume the 2020 season — which continues to be our sole focus.”
Clark mentioned one thing there that hasn’t much been discussed by the national sports media: safety. There has been no mention in any proposal to players of how testing for COVID-19 would be accomplished, or what would happen to any season if anyone connected with the game — player, manager, coach, support staff — tested positive. There’s also this concern:
Folks working in baseball operations departments have been surprised at how little conversation there's been with MLB about potential complications. One of many, many examples: Will players traded from one team to another require quarantine ?— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) May 11, 2020
A well-regarded, thoughtful player weighs in:
Bear with me, but it feels like we've zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season. Here are some things I'll be looking for in the proposal...— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) May 11, 2020
Because this is a novel virus, there is still so much we don't know - including the long-term effects. On top of respiratory issues, there's been evidence of kidney, intestinal, and liver damage, as well as neurological malfunctions, blood clots & strokes. https://t.co/rXD3vJRpoH— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) May 11, 2020
While money is an important topic to players, health is even more important. Listen to what Rockies outfielder David Dahl, who has an underlying health issue, says about returning to play. Dahl had his spleen removed after an injury in the minor leagues in 2015 and must be very careful to guard his health:
“It’s definitely scary . . . my immune system is pretty bad,” Dahl says. “But I trust the medical experts, the guys with the Rockies, everyone who will be involved that if we do come back and play, we’ll be safe and taking the right precautions to make sure we aren’t at a greater risk.”
The problem is, nothing’s been said about “taking the right precautions.” None of the proposals I’ve heard have mentioned player health at all. Dahl added:
“They said you’re at a greater risk for getting sick, getting a virus, something like that. You just have to be smart. You’ve got to wash hands, the basic stuff they tell you,” Dahl said.
“I’ve taken precautions since this injury happened. Obviously, there’s no vaccine for this, but I’m always up to date on my vaccines. I’m smart with who I interact with. I don’t shake too many hands.
“Someone like me can get sick. It will last longer, hit me harder than it might hit someone else that has a spleen.”
There’s also the matter of whether baseball would even be able to be played in certain states or cities by July:
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he had talked with Rob Manfred and said MLB had promised not to hold any games in violation of state guidelines. Newsom said he'd like to see games, even fan-free, but no guarantees. "We'll see where we will be in July," Newsom said.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) May 11, 2020
Gov. Newsom is clearly making no promises here. Five MLB teams call California home. If that state’s return to normal life plans don’t include the possibility of having stadiums open by July, that pretty much kills the whole deal, I’d think. It could very well be the same situation in New York and Illinois, both states home to two MLB teams. The idea of having some teams holed up at their spring-training complexes while others play in their home parks complicates travel even more than it already would be in the plan laid out earlier Monday in this USA Today article:
According to the two people, the traditional two-league- six-division structure will remain, but teams will only play opponents in their division and the corresponding geographical division from the other league. So a team such as the New York Yankees would play only against their AL East opponents and the NL East, while a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who weren’t scheduled to play the Houston Astros, now would play them at least six times.
As I noted Monday, there’s still quite a bit of distant air travel involved in such a setup.
Beyond all this, super-agent Scott Boras weighed in on the situation. Like him or not, Boras clients are some of the game’s biggest stars, including Kris Bryant of the Cubs as well as Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper. Here’s what Boras told Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein:
“The players I represent are unified in that they reached an agreement and they sacrificed anywhere from 30 to 40% of their salaries so that the games could amicably continue,” said Boras. “The owners represented during that negotiation that they could operate without fans in the ballpark. Based on that, we reached an agreement and there will not be a renegotiation of that agreement.”
Like Boras or not, he is correct. The players and owners reached an agreement in March on pay and other 2020 season items, though specific terms of that deal have never been made public. Some of the details are in this Jeff Passan/Kiley McDaniel article at ESPN.com posted a couple of days after the deal was struck, and to me, these are the key factors, that no 2020 season could begin unless all three of these things were true:
1. No governmental edicts on mass gatherings that would prevent teams from playing in their home stadiums;
2. No travel restrictions in the United States or Canada;
3. The determination, after talking with health experts and the union, that playing does not expose players, staff or fans to health risks.
We’re not at the point where any of those things can be definitively said to be in place as of the date I’m writing this, May 12. July 1 is only seven weeks from now. It doesn’t seem as if the health risks will have been totally mitigated in just seven weeks. The Passan/McDaniel article is definitely worth reading, if you haven’t, or re-reading if you did so several weeks ago when it was written.
But beyond the players’ outright rejection of the owners’ proposal — and sure, that could be posturing — there are a lot of other things that have to happen before there’s any baseball in 2020. I would like to see the game back as much as anyone, but not until it’s done in a safe manner. To me, if they can get the finances agreed to, either the Cactus/Grapefruit League plan or the Arizona/Florida/Texas concept (since there are multiple domed stadiums that could be used) are much better ideas than trying to open play (even without fans) in stadiums in 26 different cities in 17 states and a Canadian province.
As always, we await developments.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please, if you make comments that include references to politics, keep them directly related to baseball. Thank you.
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