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MLB owners and players need to stop posturing and make a deal for a 2020 season

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We’re getting to crunch time to have a baseball season and players and owners are at a high level of mistrust.

C’mon, Rob Manfred. Be the guy who saved baseball instead of the one who ruined it
Al Yellon

Let me make one thing clear before I take a dive into the latest offer made to MLB players from owners Tuesday.

I place the fault here almost entirely on team owners. While it is true that MLB owners are losing billions from not having games and having to refund tickets and not have ancillary income from concessions, parking, etc., the offer made to players is basically asking them to take more cuts in pay on top of what players already agreed to in March.

Jeff Passan of ESPN and Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic have been doing top-notch reporting on the player-owner dispute and what needs to happen before there’s a 2020 season. Let’s begin with Passan:

“The proposal involves massive additional pay cuts and the union is extremely disappointed,” the MLB Players Association said in a statement to ESPN’s Enrique Rojas. “We’re also far apart on health and safety protocols.”

The union is expected to reject the plan and counter in the coming days with a proposal that could include a longer season, sources said.

Passan’s article goes on to detail how players at different salary levels would be compensated, with the biggest cuts — 75 percent or higher — coming from salaries of the highest-paid players:

Under this formula, Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, who at $37,666,666 has the highest full-season salary in baseball this year and would make $19,065,843 on a prorated basis over 82 games, would have a base salary of $5,748,577 — though players would be paid for only games played. Trout could make upward of $2.5 million more under the proposal if the league completes the World Series.

Here are estimates of what Cubs players would make under MLB’s proposal (and many thanks to Max Rieper of our SB Nation site Royals Review for his help in creating this table):

Estimates of Cubs 2020 salaries per owners proposal

Player 2020 salary Pro-rated salary Owners proposal Percent cut
Player 2020 salary Pro-rated salary Owners proposal Percent cut
Darvish, Yu $22,000,000 $11,135,802 $4,162,569 81.1%
Heyward, Jason $21,000,000 $10,629,629 $4,061,334 80.7%
Lester, Jon $20,000,000 $10,123,456 $3,960,100 80.2%
Bryant, Kris $18,600,000 $9,414,814 $3,747,507 79.9%
Rizzo, Anthony $16,500,000 $8,351,851 $3,428,618 79.2%
Kimbrel, Craig $16,000,000 $8,098,765 $3,352,692 79.0%
Chatwood, Tyler $13,000,000 $6,580,246 $2,897,137 77.7%
Hendricks, Kyle $12,000,000 $6,074,074 $2,745,285 77.1%
Quintana, Jose $10,500,000 $5,314,814 $2,517,507 76.0%
Baez, Javier $10,000,000 $5,061,728 $2,441,581 75.6%
Schwarber, Kyle $7,010,000 $3,548,271 $1,836,199 73.8%
Contreras, Willson $4,500,000 $2,277,778 $1,053,725 76.6%
Descalso, Daniel $2,500,000 $1,265,432 $796,520 68.1%
Almora, Albert $1,575,000 $797,222 $562,415 64.3%
Souza, Steven $1,000,000 $506,173 $416,890 58.3%
Ryan, Kyle $975,000 $493,518 $407,716 58.2%
Bote, David $960,000 $485,926 $402,211 58.1%
Tepera, Ryan $900,000 $455,556 $380,193 57.8%
Jeffress, Jeremy $850,000 $430,247 $361,844 57.4%
Winkler, Daniel $750,000 $379,630 $325,146 56.6%
Cotton, Jharel $640,000 $323,951 $291,556 54.4%
Happ, Ian $624,000 $315,852 $278,908 55.3%
Caratini, Victor $592,000 $299,654 $269,689 54.4%
Sadler, Casey $577,500 $292,315 $261,843 54.7%
Wick, Rowan $571,500 $289,278 $259,641 54.6%
Wieck, Brad $571,500 $289,278 $259,641 54.6%
Mills, Alec $569,500 $288,265 $258,907 54.5%
Hoerner, Nico $565,000 $285,988 $257,256 54.5%
Underwood, Duane $565,000 $285,988 $257,256 54.5%
Megill, Trevor $563,500 $285,228 $256,706 54.4%
$186,459,500 $94,348,507 $42,508,594 77.2%

While it is true that high-paid employees at many companies have taken the highest-percentage pay cuts during the pandemic, these sorts of proposed cuts seem tantamount to asking players to cover all the owners’ losses. There might be some who still say “players are greedy,” but baseball is a $10 billion business, owners are generally billionaires, and the teams should be willing to work with players on this instead of simply propose draconian pay cuts. I come down strongly on the side of players here. Players have only a limited time in their lives when their baseball skills are at their peak. They deserve to be fairly compensated for that talent.

At Baseball Prospectus, Craig Goldstein suggests salary deferrals might be a way for players and owners to compromise:

One of the league’s biggest problems is that even some of the teams that won’t run in the red in a shortened, fanless season are cash-poor right now. We saw that with the league’s focus on reducing draft spending, including a deferral of bonus payments spread out over two years. If liquidity is the issue, the union can throw the league a bone by accepting deferred payments but insisting upon interest as a way to keep players (relatively) whole. The sliding scale can be applied, with the players making the most money receiving the highest percentage of the deferrals. This way, the union doesn’t back off its original deal of “no cuts aside from the proration” while the league receives its much-desired liquidity, and eases the pressure on the cash-poor teams.

How far into the future the deferrals would go would seem to be a potential point of contention. The league will likely want to spread it out further into the future, but the union would likely see anything beyond 2021 as potential leverage for the league to withhold money owed during the negotiations over the new CBA.

But again, this supposes that the two sides are willing to actually compromise. They’ll have to eliminate the distrust that’s currently keeping them at odds before that happens.

Passan’s article, as noted above, says the players will make a counteroffer soon. Intriguing in there is the thought of a “longer season.” There have previously been hints from players that they would like to see doubleheaders played to get MLB closer to 100 games than the 82 proposed. As you know, I’m not a big fan of doubleheaders but in this year where everything’s changing, perhaps that would work, especially if doubleheaders were played as in the minor-league system, two games of seven innings each.

Rosenthal and Drellich go through many of the same points Passan did, but also make this salient point:

“Here’s where I think MLB is screwing this up,” one agent said. “They are approaching this like a CBA negotiation. CBA negotiations usually happen in the offseason where players are disconnected, not paying attention and the deals are agreed upon before the season, so they don’t feel any financial impact unless they are a free agent the next year and get screwed.

“Since their whole paycheck is on the line and there’s nothing else going on in their lives, they’re completely invested, they’re getting educated and they’re following every step. It’s eye-opening for a lot of them. They’re seeing a greedy side of the owners and (commissioner Rob) Manfred that they have ignored in the past. This is gonna spill into the CBA negotiations for next year and the players are gonna take a stronger position.”

This is spot-on. We are in unprecedented times. MLB owners should absolutely NOT be viewing this like a CBA negotiation, because there’s an even tighter time clock on these talks than there would be for collective bargaining negotiations. If MLB wants “Spring Training 2.0” to start around June 10 and a season to begin July 1, they’ve really got to get some sort of deal made this week, or no earlier than the middle of next week as a drop-dead date.

The agent quoted above said the owners are showing their “greedy side.” I can’t disagree with that. I grant that owners are losing a significant amount of money this year without revenue from fans in the ballpark, and even if a season is played, they’re still going to be without that revenue since it seems extremely unlikely that any fans will be permitted at sporting events this year.

But with the National Hockey League’s announcement Tuesday that they had a plan for going forward with a postseason sometime in the next couple of months, baseball shouldn’t want to be the sport that throws up its hands and says “Forget it!” to a 2020 season. If other sports are playing this summer and/or fall and baseball isn’t, that’s a real black eye to the game.

Rosenthal and Drellich quote a second player agent:

“I told our guys, ‘Don’t be knee-jerk. There is going to be a lot of pushing and shoving in the media with messaging and all that. Ride it out. We’ll see where we’re at near the end of the week,’” the agent said. “Like everything in baseball, nobody really turns over the cards until the very end.”

I hope this is correct. As fans, we want baseball. The players certainly want to play. The owners ought to be more willing to pay more.

Get it done, guys. Let’s play ball.